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Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention


Health Outcomes of Prenatal Seafood Consumption

Monday, October 04th, 2021
pregnant woman holding belly - photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on

By: Gabrielle Tharp and Liberty Sheppard

In the past, food safety and nutrition were generally not considered jointly, but were managed as two separate issues. That separation can lead to less-than-optimal decision making. There is a new interest in building a decision-making framework that includes both nutrition and food safety jointly, with the intent of improving health outcomes.

One issue in which food safety and nutrition are relevant is seafood consumption during pregnancy. Due to mercury contamination in most bodies of water and therefore in the aquatic food chain, federal guidance asks pregnant women to limit their consumption of seafood due to the risk of impact on their unborn child from mercury. This warning often leads pregnant women to  avoid eating seafood altogether. But we also know that seafood provides essential nutrition for the unborn child and research has shown the positive outcomes from prenatal seafood consumption. So, what if the lack of seafood in pregnant women’s diets could actually be doing more harm than good? 

As part of our Masters in Public Health Program, we are required to complete a practicum that required to work with an organization on a project or topic related to public health and produce some sort of outcome that reflects our experience. This experience is meant to give us real world experience in the public health field. We were challenged to meet some competencies, such as analyze and interpret data obtained from an epidemiologic investigation and perform effectively on interprofessional teams. We were both excited to work on the Health Outcomes of Prenatal Seafood Consumption Project (HOPs) to meet our practicum requirements. The project’s overall goal is to quantify the impact of current levels of prenatal seafood consumption on the health outcomes of children in the United States. This can be broken down into two parts. Gabby’s practicum experience focused on determining how to update estimates of prenatal consumption of seafood. While Liberty’s practicum experience focused on preparing for a meta-analysis to investigate the impact of seafood on child neurodevelopmental outcome. Once we come up with an estimate for seafood consumption, we can use information from the meta-analysis to determine how the cognitive development of children here in the United States is being affected by seafood consumption. 

As part of the HOPs project, we worked on an interprofessional team of public health professionals, along with a physician, a lawyer, and individuals who used to work with the Food and Drug Administration. As a team, we worked together to set goals and benchmarks for the project. We also met with others who worked in the field of nutrition to get their input on different aspects of the project. We examined systematic reviews and cohort studies and gained experience interpreting the results of data analysis.

Over the summer, we  identified a data source to quantify seafood consumption and started collecting and preparing the data that will be used in the meta-analysis. Both of us plan to work with CFI for our culminating project to further examine the impact of current levels of prenatal seafood consumption on the health outcomes of the children here in the United States.

Gabrielle Tharp


Gabrielle Tharp

Graduate Intern




Liberty Sheppard


Liberty Sheppard

Graduate Intern



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October 4, 2021 - 12:40pm --

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