Overweight Pregnancy Can Have Long-Term Health Consequences for Children

December 6, 2011

Too much weight before and during pregnancy can have serious health consequences not only for the mother, but for her child’s health for many years, new research shows.

“While it’s pretty well-known a healthy weight is crucial to a healthy and long life, new research is showing that if a woman is overweight while pregnant, her baby is more likely to be overweight,” said Alan R. Fleischman, MD, March of Dimes medical director. These health risks continue into childhood, with a higher risk of developing insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

“We realize that weight is a sensitive subject for many women and that some health care professionals are uncomfortable discussing it, but weight is a risk factor that can be modified. If a woman starts pregnancy at a healthy weight, it can not only lower the risk of preterm birth and birth defects, but can give her baby a healthier start that can have life-long benefits,” Dr. Fleischman added.

Women can find more details at marchofdimes.org/overweight.

The March of Dimes recommends that women who are planning a pregnancy should get a preconception health check-up. During the visit, the health care provider can identify and treat health conditions that can pose a risk in pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or certain infections and provide information on nutrition, weight, smoking, drinking alcohol and occupational exposures that can pose pregnancy risks.

During a luncheon for reporters hosted by March of Dimes National Communications Advisory Council meeting today, two experts – who served on an Institute of Medicine panel to determine the new guidelines on weight gain during pregnancy – presented the latest research behind those guidelinesand discussed the health consequences to both the mother and child of gaining too much weight while pregnant.

“A healthy weight is important for all women to live a high quality life. Conceiving at a healthy weight that is the result of eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and having emotional balance sets the pregnancy off to the best start possible,” said Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, RD, professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, associate dean of Academic Affairs and Fellow of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, one of two experts who presented at the luncheon. “Gaining too little or too much weight during pregnancy isunhealthy and can cause health problems later on for both the mother and child.”

“Pregnancy provides a clear window into a woman’s future health,” said Patrick M. Catalano, MD, FACOG, former chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Metro Health Medical Center and professor at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, who also presented his work at the luncheon. “If a woman develops gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy, there’s an increased chance those will become chronic problems later in life.”