• Team BAME Maternity

Mending fractured advice on diet and maternal health

Updated: May 26, 2020

Aniebiet Ekong: Confusion reins on healthy eating advice for Africans mothers

Research into the link between poor diet and the risk of gestational diabetes, caesarean sections, perinatal mortality and stillbirth among the African community will be shared at this year’s BAME Birthing With Colour Conference in London writes Megan Samrai

Public health nutritionist Aniebiet Ekong is dedicated to improving maternal health for African immigrants living in the UK. Her work has found expression in a systematic review titled Challenges and facilitators to healthy eating for African pregnant women living in the UK- sociocultural implications.

“African women are a hard to reach group in the UK,” says Ms Ekong. One reason for this lies in the lack of national data regarding the health of pregnant BAME woman in the UK.

[There is a] lack of national data regarding the health of pregnant BAME woman in the UK

“There haven’t been a lot of studies in the UK looking at challenges and facilitators for healthy eating.” To date most studies have been carried out in the United States.

At this year’s BAME Birthing With Colour Conference, Ms Ekong will argue that a better understanding of the context of those living in the UK is the pathway to reducing the higher incidence of obesity and high blood pressure among black women.

There also needs to be a greater engagement with the African community. A recurrent refrain from the women Ms Ekong has met so far as part of her studies has been that the guidelines set out in the NHS Eatwell Guide aren’t relatable and often the information is thrown in the bin.

Food has different meaning for an African compared to a Caucasian

“Food has different meaning for an African compared to a Caucasian” says Ms Ekong. “Midwives and doctors need to consider whether the advice they provide is culturally acceptable.” In short, the community does not feel represented or heard so are “more socio-culturally inclined to keep on doing the things that they were doing rather than taking on any new advice.” It also means that all too often expectant mothers are missing out on good advice such as the benefits of folic acid supplements.

Ms Ekong reports that many of the midwives she has interviewed to date - whether as part of her pilot study or in public and private engagement - were confused when asked how they provide healthy eating advice to Africans mothers. "Often they would ask: "Is it supposed to be different?” Sadly, says Ms Ekong, the situation does not appear to improve in terms of aftercare.

Among Ms Ekong's recommendations is a more customised approach to nutritional advice. “If the food and culture is different, the advice must be different. We need to open up the dialogue and ask the right questions.”

About Aniebiet Ekong

Aniebiet Ibanga Ekong is completing a PhD on African maternal nutrition at Bournemouth University in the UK. At BAME Birthing With Colour Ms Ekong will deliver two workshops themed around the challenges and facilitators to healthy eating for African pregnant women.

About BAME Birthing With Colour

BAME Birthing With Colour is a one day conference organised by registered charity The Brun Bear Foundation in association with a top team of healthcare professionals led by Helen Knower, Director of Midwifery, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.

The conference’s objectives are to draw together medical professionals, policy makers, the third sector, community groups and mothers themselves for an outstanding programme that helps shape, deliver, direct and influence higher standards of BAME Maternity care.

Proceeds from the day – which is being organised on an entirely voluntary basis – will support relevant medical and other causes.

For more information including speaking, attendance, sponsorship, media and supporting organisation opportunities please email

To secure your ticket please visit

Author: Megan Samrai

Subeditor: Edwin Lampert

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