The study was sponsored by the City Council of Addis Ababa as part of health and nutritional assessment of low income families prior to planning a food supplementation program for women and children. This particular program was initiated because of sudden increase in the price of essential food items following implementation of government policies that preferred state control of production and distribution of all essential commodities. The study of the effect of home diet on fetal growth arose from the observation that in Ethiopia, where severe deficiency in food energy is prevalent, there appears to be no corresponding deficit in fetal growth. This observation is at variance with the generally held view that dietary energy deficit during pregnancy leads to fetal growth retardation. However, several lines of recent evidence suggest that fetal growth is protected through adaptive processes. Among possible adaptive mechanisms area: 1) higher physical work efficiency; 2) greater mobilization of maternal energy reserves (fat deposits); and 3) hemodynamic adjustments to maintain adequate uterine perfusion. Data analysis to date showed that the dietary energy deficits in low income families were associated with deficiencies in nutritional status of the gravida during the third trimester and the puerperium as reflected by reduced skinfold thickness and body mass index. Third trimester diastolic blood pressure was significantly reduced in poorly nourished gravida. Although a statistically significant difference of 180 g in birth weight was detected between the offspring of the undernourished and adequately nourished, it is not yet clear whether this difference is due to diet alone.

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