Pregnant women with HIV often malnourished

CORNELL (US) — Even when HIV-infected pregnant women receive antiretroviral therapy, malnutrition is common, leading to low birth weight and other health problems in their infants.

In one of the few studies that have looked at the nutritional status of pregnant, HIV-infected women receiving antiretroviral therapy, about 15 percent of the women lost weight over the course of their pregnancies. Almost half of the women were anemic, a condition often caused by iron deficiency.

“What we see is that even excellent clinical care on the best antiretroviral regimens that we have isn’t sufficient for healthy pregnancies,” says lead researcher Sera Young, a research scientist in Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences.


HIV is a “wasting disease,” which means that it depletes the body’s muscle and fat stores. This combined with the increased nutritional needs of pregnancy make HIV-infected pregnant women particularly susceptible to malnutrition.

For the study published in the journal PLoS One, Young and colleagues measured weight gain, iron status, and other nutritional markers in 158 HIV-infected, pregnant women in Uganda who were receiving combination antiretroviral therapy. The women were followed throughout their pregnancies. Their newborn infants also had poor health outcomes—about one-fifth of the babies had low birth weight, and preterm delivery and stunting were common.

“There’s no better predictor of a child’s health than the mother’s health,” Young says. “Working to keep the moms healthy to be able to care for these little babies is a pretty compelling reason for this research.”

One of the positive findings of the study is that no mother transmitted HIV in utero or while giving birth to the babies. Young is spearheading an ongoing study looking at the effects of nutritional supplementation in HIV-infected pregnant women, with the hope that augmenting their diet during pregnancy will improve both maternal and infant health outcomes.

Diane Havlir and Deborah Cohan, both researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, were the primary investigators. The study was part of PROMOTE, a larger clinical trial investigating malaria outcomes in HIV-infected pregnant women receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Source: Cornell University