Fish consumption during pregnancy in relation to national guidance in England in a mixed methods study: The PEAR Study

Lucy Beasant*, Jenny Ingram*, Caroline M Taylor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Guidance on foods to limit or avoid in pregnancy is provided on the NHS website for England. Advice on fish consumption is related to exposure to mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated bi-phenyls, which may have adverse effects on fetal neurodevelopment. Our aim was to provide evidence on the effectiveness of the guidance in minimising exposure to toxins while maximising nutrient intakes in a mixed methods study. An online questionnaire on fish consumption be-fore/during pregnancy was completed by postpartum women (≤12 months) in England (n=598). A subsample of participants were invited to take part in an interview (n=14). Women who ate fish before pregnancy reduced their intakes of both oily and white fish during pregnancy, with some avoiding it altogether. Women did not exceed the limit on tinned tuna, but there was evidence of mis-recall on the suggested limit. Overall intakes of fish were below that recommended during pregnancy (36% compliance for pre-pregnancy consumers). Barriers to fish consumption included risk aversion, confusion over specific details of the guidance, cost, availability, family preferences and smell/taste. Clarity and simplicity of the NHS guidance, with an overall message on the number of portions of a week advised prominently shown, would help pregnant women to benefit from the nutrients in fish while minimising exposure to toxins. The guidance on the number of cans of tuna advised per week is poorly recalled and needs to be disseminated accurately. The guidance on shark/marlin/swordfish could receive less prominence as it is rarely eaten by pregnant women in England.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3217
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by a Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Award (CMT; grant number MR/T010010/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


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