Healthy pregnancies and essential fats: Focus group discussions with Zambian women on dietary need and acceptability of a novel RUSF containing fish oil DHA

Catherine Chunda-Liyoka, Mwansa Ketty Lubeya, Mercy Imakando, Sophia Kisling, Sonoor Majid, Mary S. Willis, Charles Wood, Chipepo Kankasa, Concetta C. Dirusso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Nut butter-based Ready to Use Supplemental Foods (RUSF) are an effective way to add nutrients and calories to diets of malnourished and food insecure populations. The RUSF formulations have been further modified to add micronutrients including iron and folic acid needed during pregnancy and lactation. Because docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 n-3) enhances fetal development and birth outcomes, it has been suggested that perhaps RUSF formulations for pregnancy should also include this Omega 3 fatty acid. The goal of the present study was to gain an understanding of Zambian women's knowledge of nutritional needs in pregnancy through structured focus group discussions, and to formulate and determine the acceptability of a RUSF with DHA. Methods: Structured focus group sessions were conducted among women attending an antenatal clinic at the University Teaching Hospitals in Lusaka, Zambia. Dietary and nutrition knowledge was surveyed through structured dialogue that was recorded by audio and transcribed verbatim. An RUSF containing 400 mg DHA from fish oil in 50 g RUSF was designed and assessed for fatty acid content and product stability. Participants then sampled the RUSF-DHA, provided feedback on taste, and were surveyed about willingness to consume the novel formula using a standardized hedonic instrument. Results: The participants' knowledge of foods recommended for use in pregnancy included fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. Most women reported eating fish at least once per week, although the specific type of fish varied. Most did not have prior knowledge of the importance of consuming fish during pregnancy or that some fish types were more nutritional than others as they included omega 3 fatty acids. The participants were uniformly accepting of the RUSF-DHA for the purpose of enhancing birth and developmental outcomes, but were critical of the aroma in hedonic testing. Conclusions: Women were committed to consuming a healthy diet that would impact the outcome of pregnancy, and were receptive to advice on the importance of consuming foods such as fish as a source of DHA. The RUSF-DHA formulation was acceptable due to the potential benefits for the developing infant, however, the fishy odor may be limiting for long-term daily use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number93
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 2020


  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Focus groups
  • Food insecurity
  • Hedonic assessment
  • Malnutrition
  • Omega 3
  • Pregnancy
  • Ready to use supplemental foods (RUSF)
  • Zambia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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