Food Aversions and Cravings during Pregnancy on Yasawa Island, Fiji

Abstract

Women often experience novel food aversions and cravings during pregnancy. These appetite changes have been hypothesized to work alongside cultural strategies as adaptive responses to the challenges posed by pregnancy (e.g., maternal immune suppression). Here, we report a study that assessed whether data from an indigenous population in Fiji are consistent with the predictions of this hypothesis. We found that aversions focus predominantly on foods expected to exacerbate the challenges of pregnancy. Cravings focus on foods that provide calories and micronutrients while posing few threats to mothers and fetuses. We also found that women who experience aversions to specific foods are more likely to crave foods that meet nutritional needs similar to those provided by the aversive foods. These findings are in line with the predictions of the hypothesis. This adds further weight to the argument that appetite changes may function in parallel with cultural mechanisms to solve pregnancy challenges.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge that financial support for this research was provided by Simon Fraser University (SFU), the University of British Columbia, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Canada Research Chairs program. Additionally, we are thankful to the Fijian research assistants whose diligent and meticulous fieldwork made this study possible. We also thank the members of SFU’s Human Evolutionary Studies Program, SFU’s FAB* lab, Aarhus University’s Centre for Biocultural History, and four anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments during the development of this manuscript. Lastly, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to the women of Yasawa Island for their willingness to share information about their personal histories. Without their assistance, this project and several others would have been impossible.

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Correspondence to Luseadra McKerracher.

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McKerracher, L., Collard, M. & Henrich, J. Food Aversions and Cravings during Pregnancy on Yasawa Island, Fiji. Hum Nat 27, 296–315 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-016-9262-y

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Keywords

  • Pregnancy
  • Diet
  • Aversions
  • Cravings
  • Behavioral ecology
  • Fiji