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URMC / Research / Research@URMC / December 2015 / Excess Weight Gain in Pregnancy Has Long Lasting Effects on Mom, Baby, Future Generations

Excess Weight Gain in Pregnancy Has Long Lasting Effects on Mom, Baby, Future Generations

Pregnant African American woman measuring her belly

Researchers at the University of Rochester have found that weight gain during pregnancy is associated with several aspects of women’s health down the road. Susan Groth, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing has focused her research on a population of women who are particularly at risk for gaining too much weight during pregnancy: low-income minorities.

In a study of 298 young African American women, Groth found that a mother’s weight gain during pregnancy had long-term effects on her health. In fact, the amount of weight a woman gained during pregnancy influenced her weight 18 years after giving birth. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy was also associated with hypertension and obesity – especially if women started their pregnancies at a healthy weight.

The same study found that excessive weight gain during pregnancy also has long lasting negative effects on the baby’s health. Mothers who were overweight or obese at the beginning of their pregnancy, or mothers who started with a healthy weight but gained excessively during pregnancy were more likely to have overweight or obese children. Other research suggests that these effects don’t only influence the baby, but can be passed down for several generations.

Weight gain during pregnancy is a delicate issue in the US, where 52 percent of women gain too much. The most recent guidelines for gestational weight gain suggest that women who start their pregnancies at a healthy weight should gain 25 to 35 pounds, while women who are obese at the beginning of their pregnancy should aim to restrict their weight gain to 11 to 20 pounds.  A woman only needs 300 extra calories – for example, a half of a cup of trail mix – per day during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.

In order to curb weight gain during pregnancy, Groth has tried to understand what causes it. Through surveys and interviews with pregnant, low-income, minority women in Rochester, she found that cravings were likely to dictate a woman’s dietary choices. These women also were not very interested in exercise. According to current recommendations, women should strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week throughout pregnancy, but studies have shown that only 15 percent of women meet those standards.

Groth and her colleagues discovered a potential genetic contribution to excessive weight gain during pregnancy, as well. They looked for the “Fat mass and obesity associated” gene, or FTO, which is associated with obesity and diabetes and comes in both high and low risk variations. Groth found that minority women who were obese at the beginning of their pregnancy and carried two copies of the high risk form of the FTO gene gained more weight during pregnancy than obese women who had two copies of the low risk form.

Now that we know the negative effects that follow excessive weight gain during pregnancy and have an idea of what causes it, what can be done? Groth says, “Ideally, we would decrease the number of women who are overweight and obese before pregnancy, but that is hard to do”. For now, she recommends providing support for all women by teaching them how to maintain a healthy diet and get the recommended amount of physical activity. She adds that more research into how and why women gain too much weight during their pregnancies is needed to help us understand how to prevent it.
 

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The University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer and heart disease to Parkinson’s, pandemic influenza, and autism. Spread across many centers, institutes, and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region, and across the globe. To learn more, visit http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/research.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 12/16/2015

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