28/07/2010

Pregnant Women's Obesity Levels Rising

The health of babies is being put at risk because obesity levels among pregnant women have reached 'epidemic' levels, health experts are warning.

The warning comes as government health watchdog Nice released new guidance encouraging women to lose weight before they become pregnant, in order to reduce the risk of major complications during pregnancy.

The new advice on weight management before, during and after pregnancy comes as the number of obese mothers in England rises, with 15-20 per cent of women now overweight or obese during pregnancy.

Being in obese during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, as well as developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia.

Evidence also appears to suggest that babies born to obese mothers are more likely to become obese themselves in later life because of changes that occur inside the womb.

The latest guidance recommended that healthcare professionals, including GPs and midwives, make clear to women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more the health risks of being overweight or obese during pregnancy.

Currently, health professionals do not generally give women information about the risks of obesity during pregnancy and the importance of weight management before or after pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the guidelines say, women should be advised against following the old wives tale of "eating for two" or drinking full-fat milk, and instead be encouraged to follow a healthy diet, based on starchy and wholegrain foods such as bread, pasta and rice.

Professor Annie Anderson, a member of the guidance development group and an expert in food choice at the University of Dundee, said: "Energy requirements for pregnant women do increase but not until the last trimester. They increase by a very small amount of 200 calories a day, so that's a couple of slices of toast or a milky drink at bedtime."

Although weight loss is recommended before pregnancy, the guidance advises against pressurising women into rapid weight loss or crash diets during or after pregnancy, as this can harm the health of the child.

Lucilla Poston, a Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health at King's College London, who worked on the guidance, warned: "That is absolutely the worst thing to do because it is potentially dangerous and can lead to a condition known as ketoacidosis where there is very high levels of certain fatty acids in the blood, and that can be associated with the death of the baby and cognitive impairment of the child in later life.

"I think that the issue of losing weight quickly after pregnancy can be problematic for younger women, who see celebrities doing this and look to them as role-models."

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at Nice, said: "Women should understand that weight loss after birth takes time and that physical activity and gradual weight loss will not affect their ability to breastfeed.

"Losing weight gradually can actually help women maintain a healthy weight in the long-term."

Elsewhere, the guidance calls for local authority leisure and community services to offer women with babies and children the opportunity to take part in a range of physical or recreational activities, such as swimming, cycling or dancing.

Jane Brewin, Chief Executive of the baby charity Tommy's, welcomed the guidance as a "step in the right direction" to mitigating the impact of obesity on mums and their babies.

(KMcA)

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