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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009 Nov 1;105(1-2):126-31. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.06.021. Epub 2009 Aug 7.

Betel nut chewing during pregnancy, Madang province, Papua New Guinea.

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  • 1PNG Institute of Medical Research, PO Box 378, Madang, MP 511, Papua New Guinea.



In Papua New Guinea, betel nut chewing is very common in the general population and in pregnant women. It has similarities in terms of use and complications of use to chewing tobacco (=smokeless tobacco), as its active agent, arecoline is similar to nicotine. The present study investigates the habits of betel nut chewing and possible impact on pregnancy.


In a cross-sectional survey 310 pregnant women attending Alexishafen Health Centre (Madang Province) were interviewed with a survey measuring: detailed demographic data, betel nut chewing habits, other potential addictions (smoking, alcohol and drug use) and a medical examination (weight, height, blood pressure and hemoglobin level were recorded). Their babies have been assessed for birth weight and signs of prematurity.


Among pregnant women, 94% regularly chew betel nut, 9% smoke and 1% used alcohol. 31% are heavy chewers (>10 nuts/day). The principal reasons for pregnant women to chew are: to prevent morning sickness (28%), to prevent having a smelly mouth (26%), the habit of chewing (20%), being addicted (10%). Primigravidity, betel nut chewing and low BMI had a statistically significant impact on birth weight reduction of 467 g (p<0.001), 238 g (p=0.02) and 175 g (p=0.005) respectively. 80% of the women thought that chewing would not have any effect on the fetus.


Given the high use of "pure" betel nut among pregnant women, a significant impact on birth weight reduction and a poor knowledge about the adverse health effects of this substance, prevention programs in pregnant women should include betel nut chewing as a risk factor for poor pregnancy outcome.

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