A qualitative study of motivators and barriers to healthy eating in pregnancy for low-income, overweight, African-American mothers

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Sep;113(9):1175-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.05.014. Epub 2013 Jul 16.


Poor diet quality is common among low-income, overweight, African-American mothers, placing them at high risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes. We sought to better understand the contextual factors that may influence low-income African-American mothers' diet quality during pregnancy. In 2011, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 overweight/obese, pregnant African Americans in Philadelphia, PA, all of whom received Medicaid and were eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Two readers independently coded the interview transcripts to identify recurrent themes. We identified 10 themes around motivators and barriers to healthy eating in pregnancy. Mothers believed that consuming healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, would lead to healthy babies and limit the physical discomforts of pregnancy. However, more often than not, mothers chose foods that were high in fats and sugars because of taste, cost, and convenience. In addition, mothers had several misconceptions about the definition of healthy (eg, "juice is good for baby"), which led to overconsumption. Many mothers feared they might "starve" their babies if they did not get enough to eat, promoting persistent snacking and larger portions. Living in multigenerational households and sharing resources also limited the mothers' control over food choices and made consuming healthy foods especially difficult. Despite the good intentions of low-income African-American mothers to improve diet quality during pregnancy, multiple factors worked together as barriers to healthy eating. Interventions that emphasize tasty and affordable healthy food substitutes, address misconceptions, and counsel mothers about true energy needs in pregnancy may improve low-income, African-American, overweight/obese mothers' diet quality.

Keywords: Barriers; Diet quality; Low-income; Motivators; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans* / psychology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Diet* / economics
  • Diet* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / complications*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*