WHO & GNH Maternal Nutrition report

As a World Health Organization collaboration center, our staff and students are passionate about reporting on the pressing issues in public health and nutrition. This month, GNH students, staff and interns co-authored the latest on ‘Good Maternal Nutrition’ alongside the WHO Regional Office for Europe. 

The existing recommendations for maternal nutrition, physical activity and weight gain during pregnancy were reviewed across  51 of the 53 members of WHO European Region (including Denmark and all Nordic countries). A survey was completed by cross-disciplinary maternal health professions including midwives, nurses, Obstetricians and General Practitioners. Read the full report in English.

If you don’t have time to read the full report, you can read the handy summary below:


Report in brief

The findings indicate wide variations between Member States in development of high-quality standards for maternal, infant and young child health. The data implied that there are gaps between existing policy and effective implementation. This may be owing to a range of barriers faced by health care professionals when wishing to provide future parents with advice on healthy eating and physical activity [212].

Such barriers include:

  • overstretched health care professionals;
  • inadequate resources;
  • lack of consistency in information provided;
  • inadequate training of health care professionals;
  • lack of consistency between national health services’ recommendations and other information sources.

(Dr Aileen Roberts, WHO consultant and GNH lecturer with GNH students.

Priorities identified following survey findings:

  •  Development and regular updating of recommendations for national use are needed, harmonized with WHO recommendations to promote a life-course, health-in-all-policies, intersectoral, evidence-based and human rights-centred approach.
  •  Consistency of advice should be improved and the need to tackle maternal and infant nutrition and to reduce growing inequalities throughout the WHO European Region should be raised as priorities. The wide discrepancies and lack of consistency in national recommendations within and between Member States indicate the need for action.
  • Capacity-building should be encouraged and ensured, as a continuing process. There is a clear need for active and systematic collaboration between health care service providers, professionals and government authorities. This includes the need to promote greater intersectoral and multidisciplinary integration in order to improve health outcomes through the provision of competent, culturally sensitive, and evidence-based services. Health care professionals require new competencies to meet changing health needs. It is important to provide both pre-service and in-service training, as well as making better use of communication and
    technology to share best practices.
  • Member States’ many requests for action should be supported and the Regional Office needs to respond to questions regarding how most effectively to improve maternal health through measures which improve dietary and physical activity patterns.

The majority of the Member States in the Region requested additional support from the Regional Office in relation to maternal and young child nutritional health improvements.

Possible opportunities for action at the national level, based on the evidence described and relevant WHO policies and resolutions included:

  • promote nutrition and health throughout the life-course
  • ensure optimal diet-related fetal development
  • reduce the impact of morbidity and risk factors for noncommunicable diseases by improving maternal nutrition.


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