(NaturalNews) Even women who are planning to become pregnant routinely ignore nutritional and other health advice, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Southampton, England, and published in the British Medical Journal.
"Having a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but is particularly so for women who may become pregnant because this can affect the health of their baby, not only at birth but throughout life," said Bridget Benelam of the British Nutrition Foundation. "It is worrying that so few women in this study appeared to follow nutritional and lifestyle recommendations before pregnancy and it is very important that we communicate these messages to women who might become pregnant to improve both their health and the health of future generations."
The researchers interviewed 12,500 British women between the ages of 20 and 34 about their diet, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco consumption and use of nutritional supplements. They found that women who became pregnant within the next three months were only marginally more likely to follow pre-pregnancy health advice than women who did not become pregnant.
Compliance with recommendations significantly increased after confirmation of pregnancy.
The British government currently recommends that women who are seeking to become pregnant take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid daily, avoid all use of tobacco or alcohol, exercise regularly and eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
The alcohol requirement has become stricter since the study was conducted; at the time, the government recommended a maximum of four drinks per week.
Among women who eventually became pregnant, only 74 percent were non-smokers -- compared with a roughly similar 69 percent of women who did not become pregnant. Likewise, only 51 percent of women who became pregnant limited their alcohol intake to four drinks per week, compared with 46 percent in the other group.
Perhaps most alarming, according to researchers, was the fact that only 44 percent of women in the study took any folic acid supplements at all, and only 5.5 percent took 400 micrograms or more.
Insufficient folic acid levels can cause neurological defects in an infant before most women even know they are pregnant.