Exploring the concerns, attitudes and experiences of health professionals regarding a vegan diet during pregnancy and early life : a mixed-method study : a thesis presented in the partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Human Nutrition, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Background: There is an increasing trend in vegan diet consumption globally and in New Zealand. A restrictive and unplanned vegan diet may have negative health implications, especially during pregnancy and early life, when nutrient needs are elevated. Health professionals who interact with individuals following a vegan diet must be knowledgeable about the nutritional risks of poorly-planned vegan diets, and have access to appropriate educational resources. Aim: Explore concerns, attitudes, and experiences with regards to a vegan diet during pregnancy and early life, among health professionals in New Zealand. Methods: Healthcare professionals who work with pregnant, breastfeeding women and young children, as well as specialists who provide dietary advice, were invited to participate in this mixed-method study. An online questionnaire was first used to collect quantitative data on knowledge and attitude. Subsequently, qualitative data from semi-structured interviews provided descriptions of experiences, concerns, and perspectives about the adoption of vegan diets during pregnancy and early life. Results: A total of 14 health professionals completed both the quantitative and qualitative phases of the study. All health professionals showed positive attitudes towards the adoption of vegan diets during pregnancy but some exhibited greater concern about the restrictive nature of vegan diets during early childhood. In particular, health professionals were concerned about iron and vitamin B12. Health professionals discussed the insufficiency of educational resources on vegan diets and the limited availability of dietitians. The lack of evidence-based consensus and updated government guidelines were reasons impacting confidence levels among health professionals in providing nutritional advice on vegan diets. Conclusion: Healthcare providers support individuals and families in nutrition care. Knowledge must thus be aligned with changing diet trends. Continual professional education and updated evidence-based resources may improve knowledge and confidence in providing guidance on vegan diets.
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