Weight Gain During Pregnancy: New Research Highlights Dangers
28th OF October 2012
Last year the Australian Bureau of Statistics released new figures that showed 24 per cent of Australians were obese and another 37 per cent overweight. If things continue at this level, by 2025 80% of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight and obese. This is a scary trend and obesity has become the single biggest threat to public health in Australia. Now research has turned to the ways being overweight put pregnant women and their unborn children at risk.
The study, published in Obsteric Medicine, analysed over 9000 pregnancies and found that more than 50 per cent of Australian pregnant women are either overweight or obese and that the risk of developing complications, such as hypertension or diabetes, increases with the level of obesity. Furthermore, the need for a caesarean section is heightened for obese women.
Professor Ralph Nanan from Sydney Medical School Nepean said, “What we found is that how the fat is distributed in the body is a significant factor when judging weight-related health risks. In this context fat around the inner organs, referred to as visceral fat, is more dangerous than peripheral fat, the fat around our extremities.”
Although one would assume that someone with a large stomach has a high level of the more damaging visceral fat and someone with fat around their legs and bottom have high levels of the less problematic peripheral fat, in fact the answer isn’t so obvious – especially in pregnant women. “We need the most accurate diagnostic tool possible to decide if the fat on your stomach is a sign of peripheral fat around your organs.” Nanan says.
In a second study led by Professor Nanan it was discovered that ultrasounds could be used to measure abdominal fat thickness, also known as subcutaneous fat. After analysing 1200 images of pregnant women it was found that, “these simple, safe and inexpensive measurements gave a much better predictor of obesity-related pregnancy outcomes than routinely used measures such as the Body Mass Index.”
This simple method gives doctors a better idea of which cases are high-risk and the attention of a specialist birthing centre. More information means pregnant women could avoid unnecessary intervention, which would also save money for the health system.
The researchers are currently confirming this new measure in a larger prospective study.
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