Study Pregnancy: Consumption of non-food items impacts on their children’s learning ability

A study on pregnant women's eating habits shows that consumption of non-food items impacts on their children’s learning ability.

The study shows a correlation between once bright children who later become underachievers in school, “yet they possess such great abilities and talents” and factors related to birth or pregnancy.

Titled, Impact of “pica” (non-foods) practice among pregnant mothers on cognitive intelligence [learning ability] of the child, the study cautions against eating items that have no food value, which can later affect the full development and growth of the child.

The research, the first ever to be conducted in Kenya to ascertain effects of ‘pica’, (the practice by mothers to consume non-food items during pregnancy, such as soil, matches and chalk), shows up to 77.9 per cent of pregnant women in the country engage in the habit.

Speaking today at Laico Regency while releasing the findings, the President of the African Council for Gifted and Talented, Humphrey Oborah called for enhanced education and sensitization to parents and teachers on the adverse effects of pica on overall health and growth.

“Parents, particularly pregnant mothers need to be educated strongly on the impact of pica on their own health, the born baby but even more importantly on the final future learning challenges to the child.”

Oborah called for an assessment of natural gifts and talents among learners, saying the process will help unearth changes in learning styles and provide product “Academic Prescriptions”.

He hit out at commissions of inquiry that are usually set up to provide possible solutions to the problems bedeviling the education system in country, saying employing varied teaching methodologies while embracing different learning styles could resolve the endemic public concern.

Pregnancy cravings are common among pregnant women, with most of them yearning for non-food items, which experts warn are detrimental to their health and that of their children.

Worldwide, an estimated 68 per cent of women experience cravings: “While it is associated with nutritional deficiencies, pica can occur when there are no deficiencies. The most frequent deficiency noted is iron, folic acid, zinc and potassium.”

The study notes that when a person eats non-food substances, the practice can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in their food, leading to the victim quitting eating regular foods in favour of  items pregnant women crave for, resulting in malnutrition.

Oborah said that the study on pica was commissioned “after it emerged that most young people that were referred for assessment on Gift and Talent Testing showed a significant trend of relationship in factors related to birth or pregnancy and those related to learning abilities”.

“Whereas previous documented research on pica concerned health related problems with the mother in focus, nothing has been known or done on the impact of pica on the learning ability of the born child.”

The education professor further said the study was intended to respond to questions that parents, teachers and education managers grapple with, “particularly why apparently intelligent children end up becoming underachievers in school.”

A total 476 female and 468 male children were included in the study, which was conducted in Kenya’s major cities, with 1324 mothers saying they have consumed non-food items during pregnancy.

Mothers aged 16-20 years recorded the highest prevalence of pica practice at 26.6 per cent, followed by 21-25 and those below 15 years age bracket at 17 and 13.5 per cent respectively.

“Majority of children [42.1 per cent] whose mother practised pica had weak cognitive ability, 32.3 per cent had medium ability and 3.4 per cent had high ability,” the report

Originally shared to: TheStar