CORE RESEARCH PROJECT: Physical Activity and Nutrition in Pregnancy: Descriptive Data and Association with Pregnancy Outcomes



CO-INVESTIGATORS: Wayne R. Burrows, MD; Mary Bracknell, BSN, MN; Diane S. Ward, Ed.D.

In spite of the increasing popularity of physical exercise and increased consciousness about nutrition, little is known about the joint effects of physical activity and nutrition on pregnancy outcomes. Some studies have suggested that physical activity during pregnancy is associated with preterm birth, growth retardation, and fetal development in complex inter-related ways. However, these studies have usually involved small, select samples, frequently with a rather narrow focus, often with methodological flaws. There has been little work comparing active and sedentary women in a diverse population, evaluating the range of types and levels of physical activity jointly with nutrition. Accordingly, this study conducted a one-year survey of a diverse population of post-partum women concerning physical activity and nutritional practices just before and during pregnancy. The aims of the study were three-fold: (1) To describe the levels and types of both work-related and non-work-related physical activity during and prior to pregnancy in a community sample of women; (2) To describe nutritional factors during and prior to pregnancy for this same sample including diet, vitamin supplementation, eating disorders, and conditions affecting nutrition; (3) To determine whether the level or type of physical activity and nutritional characteristics during pregnancy are associated with selected pregnancy outcomes, including birth weight and related measures, gestational age and size for gestational age, infant morbidity, fetal distress during labor, Apgar scores, length of labor, labor interventions, prolonged or premature rupture of membranes, pregnancy weight gain, hemorrhage, infection during pregnancy, pregnancy related complications.

For this investigation physical activity was taken to encompass both exercise as well as occupational activity. The survey differentiated the latter categories as well as classified the types of physical activity involved, with quantification of the intensity, frequency, and duration of the activity. The data allow assessment of both the determinants of active versus sedentary lifestyle and associations with health outcomes.