Pregnancy is the most delicate stage of human life history as well as a common target of food taboos across cultures. Despite puzzling evidence that many pregnant women across the world reduce their intake of nutritious foods to accomplish cultural norms, no study has provided statistical analysis of cross-cultural variation in food taboos during pregnancy. Moreover, antenatal practices among forager and agriculturalists have never been compared, despite subsistence mode being known to affect staple foods and lifestyle directly. This gap hinders to us from understanding the overall threats attributed to pregnancy, and their perceived nutritional causes around the world. The present study constitutes the first cross-cultural meta-analysis on food taboos during pregnancy. We examined thirty-two articles on dietary antenatal restrictions among agricultural and non-agricultural societies, in order to: (i) identify cross-culturally targeted animal, plant and miscellaneous foods; (ii) define major clusters of taboo focus; (iii) test the hypothesis that food types and clusters of focus distribute differently between agricultural and non-agricultural taboos; and (iv) test the hypothesis that food types distribute differently across the clusters of taboo focus. All data were analysed in SPSS and RStudio using chi-squared tests and Fisher’s exact tests. We detected a gradient in taboo focus that ranged from no direct physiological interest to the fear of varied physiological complications to a very specific concern over increased birth weight and difficult delivery. Non-agricultural taboos were more likely to target non-domesticated animal foods and to be justified by concerns not directly linked to the physiological sphere, whereas agricultural taboos tended to targed more cultivated and processed products and showed a stronger association with concerns over increased birth weight. Despite some methodological discrepancies in the existing literature on food taboos during pregnancy, our results illustrate that such cultural traits are useful for detecting perception of biological pressures on reproduction across cultures. Indeed, the widespread concern over birth weight and carbohydrate rich foods overlaps with clinical evidence that obstructed labor is a major threat to maternal life in Africa, Asia and Eurasia. Furthermore, asymmetry in the frequency of such concern across subsistence modes aligns with the evolutionary perspective that agriculture may have exacerbated delivery complications. This study highlights the need for the improved understanding of dietary behaviors during pregnancy across the world, addressing the role of obstructed labor as a key point of convergence between clinical, evolutionary and cultural issues in human behavior.

Food taboos during pregnancy. Meta-analysis on cross cultural differences suggests specific, diet-related pressures on childbirth among agriculturalists

Maggiulli, Ornella
;
Rufo, Fabrizio;
2022

Abstract

Pregnancy is the most delicate stage of human life history as well as a common target of food taboos across cultures. Despite puzzling evidence that many pregnant women across the world reduce their intake of nutritious foods to accomplish cultural norms, no study has provided statistical analysis of cross-cultural variation in food taboos during pregnancy. Moreover, antenatal practices among forager and agriculturalists have never been compared, despite subsistence mode being known to affect staple foods and lifestyle directly. This gap hinders to us from understanding the overall threats attributed to pregnancy, and their perceived nutritional causes around the world. The present study constitutes the first cross-cultural meta-analysis on food taboos during pregnancy. We examined thirty-two articles on dietary antenatal restrictions among agricultural and non-agricultural societies, in order to: (i) identify cross-culturally targeted animal, plant and miscellaneous foods; (ii) define major clusters of taboo focus; (iii) test the hypothesis that food types and clusters of focus distribute differently between agricultural and non-agricultural taboos; and (iv) test the hypothesis that food types distribute differently across the clusters of taboo focus. All data were analysed in SPSS and RStudio using chi-squared tests and Fisher’s exact tests. We detected a gradient in taboo focus that ranged from no direct physiological interest to the fear of varied physiological complications to a very specific concern over increased birth weight and difficult delivery. Non-agricultural taboos were more likely to target non-domesticated animal foods and to be justified by concerns not directly linked to the physiological sphere, whereas agricultural taboos tended to targed more cultivated and processed products and showed a stronger association with concerns over increased birth weight. Despite some methodological discrepancies in the existing literature on food taboos during pregnancy, our results illustrate that such cultural traits are useful for detecting perception of biological pressures on reproduction across cultures. Indeed, the widespread concern over birth weight and carbohydrate rich foods overlaps with clinical evidence that obstructed labor is a major threat to maternal life in Africa, Asia and Eurasia. Furthermore, asymmetry in the frequency of such concern across subsistence modes aligns with the evolutionary perspective that agriculture may have exacerbated delivery complications. This study highlights the need for the improved understanding of dietary behaviors during pregnancy across the world, addressing the role of obstructed labor as a key point of convergence between clinical, evolutionary and cultural issues in human behavior.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11573/1650927
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