Atlantis Project Studying Nutrition of Pregnant Women in Bermuda

Catherine Pirkle

Between April 1, 2011 and April 1, 2012, a total of 622 babies were born at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.  The wellbeing of these babies and their mothers is of great importance to the health and vibrancy of the local community. To this end, Laval University’s Atlantis Mobile Laboratories, stationed at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and supported by a grant from the Lepercq Foundation, is facilitating a National Maternal Nutrition Survey to assess the nutritional status and needs of pregnant women in Bermuda.

While all new mothers should be provided with infant nutrition information, it is even more important that expectant mothers are informed early in their pregnancies about how to maintain good nutrition during pregnancy and afterwards. But, eating well during pregnancy can be confusing because the messages that doctors, the media, and family members give may not always match. Beyond that, some pregnant women in Bermuda are unable to adhere to nutritional recommendations due to low income, housing insecurity, or a lack of understanding about public health messages.

Researchers and staff with the Atlantis Mobile Laboratories, the Department of Health and the Department of Conservation Services are conducting this survey in cooperation with local obstetricians. Dr. Catherine Pirkle, post-doctoral fellow in epidemiology and public health with the University of Laval and Co-Principal Investigator on the current project notes, “Pregnancy is a time in which dietary options and choices made by women have important impacts on their health and that of their unborn children. Developing a clearer picture of the options available to pregnant women in Bermuda can help to protect these vulnerable members of the population.” The survey is gathering information about the nutritional habits of pregnant women (e.g., what foods are specifically included or excluded in an expectant mother’s diet, and why) in order to begin assessing the effectiveness and outcomes of public health messages that are targeted at pregnant women and to highlight factors— such as low income or housing insecurity—that might prevent mothers from making healthy food choices during pregnancy.

Ultimately, the goal of this research study is to assist health professionals in Bermuda in communicating with pregnant women about nutrition and to support healthy nutritional choices.  Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball, Acting Chief Medical Officer for the Ministry of Health and Seniors, notes that, “Two very important consequences of this collaborative study are that healthcare providers gain a heightened awareness of the challenges faced by some women in Bermuda in securing healthy food during their pregnancies.  We can then intervene to assist them by referring needy families to sources of support in the community.  Additionally, this study presents a great opportunity for full collaboration between the private obstetricians and the public health sector.  Such collaboration is vital to meeting the needs of mothers and babies in the community.”