Pregnant women are exceeding weight gain guidelines

Mums-to-be are advised to watch their “overall food intake and takeaway consumption” following the results of a new study on the health behaviours and psychological well-being of pregnant women in Ireland.

The findings published in the scientific journal Public Health Nutrition reveal that almost two-thirds (62.5%) of women in Ireland exceed the recommended levels* of weight gain during pregnancy.

According to the study, pregnant women who report eating “a little more food” during their pregnancy are 60% more likely to gain excessive weight over the course of their pregnancy than those women who report eating “about the same” as before they became pregnant. It also shows that women who report eating “a lot more food” during their pregnancy are twice as likely to exceed weight gain guidelines.

The study identifies “increased food intake and takeaway consumption” as two key drivers of weight gain during pregnancy. To conduct the study researchers at University College Dublin and the National Maternity Hospital examined four health behaviours of almost 800 pregnant women: food intake, physical activity, sleep and smoking. They also assessed additional dietary behaviours including the frequency of takeaway and fried food consumption and the number of snacks eaten per day.

The findings show that foreign nationals living in Ireland are almost twice as likely as women born in Ireland to gain excessive weight over the course of their pregnancy.

“Excessive weight gain during pregnancy has significant implications for infant growth and obesity, with potential implications for later adult health,” says Fionnuala McAuliffe, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science, University College Dublin, and the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin, who co-authored the study.

“With these findings, public health campaigns can be better designed to target the types of dietary changes required to bring weight gain during pregnancy into line with the recommended guidelines.”

Women who were overweight before they became pregnant were also shown to be the most likely to gain excessive weight during their pregnancy. This matches findings from many other studies in this area. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to find an independent association between consumption of takeaway meals and weight gain during pregnancy,” says Dr Emily Heery of the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, University College Dublin, the lead author of the study. 53% of the women who took part in the study were first time mums-to-be, 30% were foreign nationals, and almost half (47%) had obtained at least a degree qualification. Over half (55%) of the women had private health insurance.

The article is freely available until 27 February 2015.

– Dr Emily Heery

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