Obesity 2011: Obesity & Pregnancy

At the Obesity 2011 national meeting of The Obesity Society there was a scientific session underlining the importance of mothers maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy, as well as during pregnancy and postpartum. Several interesting studies were presented with new findings on the implications of obesity on child-bearing.

Dr. Alana Chock, expert bariatric surgeon at Northwest Weight Loss Surgery, spoke with us about maternal obesity and provided clarification on some of the findings of the studies.  She explained that she is pleased to see that these issues are being addressed, as nearly half of women of child bearing age in the United States are overweight or obese. “Maternal obesity increases the risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, fetal loss and surgical delivery which is something most women are not aware of until they are already pregnant.  We need to place our focus on prevention.  Achieving a healthy weight before pregnancy is a goal toward which we should aspire,” she said.

One of the studies presented looked at weight gain during pregnancy and how infants are affected by excessive gestational weight gain. In the study, overweight and obese women were weighed and completed questionnaires at 13 and 30 weeks gestation and infant measurements were obtained through pediatrician records at delivery and 6 months. The study found that the women who had excessive gestational weight gain were more likely to have newborns with excessive birth weights and have higher weight-for-age (WFA) scores at 6 months. Predictors of higher WFA scores at birth were the mothers’ higher consumption of fast food and sweets during pregnancy.

While we do have control over what we eat during pregnancy, Dr. Chock explained that how much weight we gain is not completely under our control. There are certain factors that make us more likely to gain more weight during pregnancy such as “race/ethnicity and body type – you can’t change those things.  African American women are more likely to put on weight than Caucasians, and apple body shapes are more inclined to put weight on around their waist.”  It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy because excessive birth weights and high WFA scores are a predictor for childhood obesity down the road.  In addition to achieving a healthy weight before pregnancy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy, research has shown that breastfeeding protects against childhood obesity.

Another interesting study presented at Obesity 2011 was an evaluation of the effect of a postpartum lifestyle intervention program in overweight and obese women. The women in the 16-week program participated in a nutritional program and a mild walking program 3-4 times per week, gradually increasing walking time from 25 to 45 minutes per session. The program led to improved weight loss compared to women not receiving the intervention.  Dr. Chock commented on the study explaining, “Postpartum weight gain is an issue that most women who have had children are well aware of.  As many as 25% of women will be at least 11 pounds heavier 6-12 months after their pregnancy, when compared with their pre-pregnancy weight. Unfortunately, most of this weight goes to and stays at the waistline which increases a women’s risk for heart disease and diabetes, Dr. Chock concluded.

There is still a lot to discover about obesity during pregnancy, and its impact on children. Earlier this year, a large Swedish study found that it may be safe for some obese women to lose weight during pregnancy. The study found that babies born to very obese women who lost weight during pregnancy seemed to do as well as babies with mothers that gained the recommended amount. You can read about that study here.

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