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Intervention strategies to improve nutrition and health behaviours before conception

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Stephan Dombrowski, Natasha Kriznik, Professor Falko Sniehotta



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


The nutritional status of women and men before conception has profound implications for the growth, development and long-term health of their offspring. Evidence of the effectiveness of preconception interventions in improving outcomes for mothers or babies is scarce, though given the large potential health return, relatively low costs and risk of harm, intervention is still warranted. We identify three promising strategies for intervention that are likely to be scalable and to have positive effects on a range of health outcomes: supplementation and fortification; cash transfers; and behaviour change interventions. Based on this, we suggest a model specifying pathways to effect. Pathways are incorporated into a lifecourse framework using individual motivation and receptiveness at different ‘preconception action phases’ to guide design and targeting of preconception interventions. Interventions with those not planning immediate pregnancy take advantage of settings and implementation platforms outside the maternal and child health arena, since this group is unlikely to be engaged with maternal health services. Interventions to improve women’s nutritional status and health behaviours at all preconception action phases need to take account of social and environmental determinants to avoid exacerbating health and gender inequalities, and should be underpinned by a social movement that touches the whole population. A dual strategy that targets specific groups actively planning a pregnancy, while improving the health of the population more broadly, is proposed. The engagement of modern marketing techniques points to a social movement based on an emotional and symbolic connection between improved maternal nutrition and health prior to conception and offspring health. We suggest that speedy and scalable public health benefit might be achieved through strategic engagement with the private sector. Political theory supports the development of an advocacy coalition of groups interested in preconception health, to harness the political will and leadership necessary to turn high-level policy into effective co-ordinated action.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Barker M, Dombrowski SU, Colbourn T, Fall CHD, Kriznik NM, Lawrence WT, Norris SA, Ngaiza G, Patel D, Skordis-Worrall J, Sniehotta FF, Steegers-Theunissen R, Vogel C, Woods-Townsend K, Stephenson J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The Lancet

Year: 2018

Volume: 391

Issue: 10132

Pages: 1853-1864

Print publication date: 05/05/2018

Online publication date: 16/04/2018

Acceptance date: 15/03/2018

Date deposited: 25/04/2018

ISSN (print): 0140-6736

ISSN (electronic): 1474-547X

Publisher: The Lancet Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30313-1


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