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Maternal obesity a problem - new findings

Wednesday February 11th, 2009

Growing levels of obesity among women of child-bearing age pose a major risk to the next generation of babies, researchers warned today.

Obese women are likely to have more difficulty conceiving, and their babies face a greater risk of a range of health problems, say experts from the UK's Royal Society of Medicine.

Yesterday they called on the British government to fund more campaigns focused on this group of women.

The latest research suggests that overweight women (body mass index over 25) have a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure during their pregnancy, and a higher risk of premature birth and caesarean delivery.

The findings are based on 3,642 women, and published in the journal Obstetric Medicine. The researchers conclude: "Obesity is an independent risk factor for adverse obstetric outcomes."

Co-author Dr Eugene Oteng-Ntim said: "Women of reproductive age need to maintain a healthy weight if they want to have a healthy pregnancy and give birth to healthy children.

"Once an obese woman is pregnant, she and her baby already run a greater risk to their health. Obesity problems begin before conception and pregnancy is certainly not the time to start trying to lose weight."

Professor Philip Steer of the Royal Society of Medicine added: "We've had warnings on cigarette packets telling us that smoking can harm the unborn baby as well as the mother. But there seems to be little effort made to warn mothers about the risk obesity poses to mother and child.

"There is a significant rise in obesity in pregnancy and it appears that little is being done by the government to target this group."

Chereshneva, M., Hinkson, L. and Oteng-Ntim , E. The effects of booking body mass index on obstetric and neonatal outcomes in an inner city UK tertiary referral centre. Obstetric Medicine, Vol. 1, January 2008, pp. 88-91.

* In a second study reported today, British researchers warned the severity of heart disease among pregnant women is increasing.

Pregnancy involves a significant stress on the heart. Heart disease is currently the most common cause of mortality among pregnant women in the UK, leading to death in 2.27 per 100,000 pregnancies. Although the rate of heart disease has remained stable since 1990, it has tended to become more severe and the mortality rate has doubled.

Dr Emily Gelson of Imperial College London, UK, and colleagues looked at four types of heart disease that affect pregnant women including the most common cause of death, ischaemic heart disease.

In BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, they write that increased maternal age, smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet have raised the risk. Two-thirds of pregnant women who die from heart disease are overweight or obese, they add.

They also report that care was "considered substandard" in nearly half the cases of maternal death. Women with pre-existing risks such as an underlying heart condition must be identified and treated early, they recommend.

Dr Gelson says: "The presence of these risk factors must be highlighted during pregnancy, promoting the timely diagnosis of unsuspected cardiac disease in pregnant women."

Gelson, E. et al. Heart disease - why is maternal mortality increasing? BJOG 2008; DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2008.02082.x.

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Heart Health | Nutrition & Healthy Eating | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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