A recent study funded by the U. S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service suggests that a woman’s weight during pregnancy may influence the likelihood of her child becoming an overweight or obese adult.
Beth Reames, LSU AgCenter nutritionist, said the research conducted on laboratory rats at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock and published in the March 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine suggests that a child’s body-weight-regulating mechanisms might be permanently altered by maternal signals associated with the mother's own overweight.
“All of the baby rats in the study were of normal weight at birth and at weaning,” she said. “However, when the weaned offspring were given free access to an unlimited amount of high-fat food, the offspring of overweight females showed remarkable sensitivity to the high-fat food.”
They gained significantly more weight, and more of that weight as fat mass, than the offspring of lean mothers.
Reames said the influences that occur in the womb – and perhaps during the first few months of life – might affect development of a child's ability to regulate his or her weight later in life.
“Such maternal programming of the unborn child and the developing newborn could increase the risk that the child would become an overweight or obese adult,” she said. “Overweight and obesity increase the risk of type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
Being a healthy weight at the time of conception and following weight gain recommendations will help to insure a healthy pregnancy.
Revised guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy were released in May 2009 by the Institute of Medicine.
Reames said the guidelines focus not only on how much weight should be gained during pregnancy but also on the importance of being a healthy weight when a woman becomes pregnant.
The guidelines stress that in order to improve maternal and child health outcomes, women should be within a normal Body Mass Index range when they conceive and should gain weight within recommended ranges during pregnancy based on pre-pregnancy weight as follows:
– If you are at a healthy weight before pregnancy, you should gain between 25 and 35 pounds.
– If you are underweight, you should gain 28 to 40 pounds.
– If you are overweight, you should gain 15 to 25 pounds.
– If you are obese, then you should gain 11 to 20 pounds.
The previous 1990 guidelines recommended that obese women gain at least 15 pounds and did not set an upper limit, according to Reames.
For a multiple pregnancy--twins, triplets or more--weight gain during pregnancy is dependent on the number of babies.
Pre-pregnancy weights are based on a woman's body mass index. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal, overweight is 25-29.9, and obese is 30 or higher.
The Institute of Medicine's new guidelines call for women to be offered preconception counseling that includes their weight, diet, and physical activity.
“To achieve a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, many women may need to lose weight,” Reames said. “Studies show that more than 40 percent of women of childbearing age are overweight and nearly 20 percent are obese.”
Being overweight increases the mother’s risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. If excess pounds gained during pregnancy aren't lost after the baby is born, they increase lifetime health risks such as heart disease.
“Even if you're overweight before pregnancy, it's important to gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy,” she said. “Pregnancy is not the time to diet or try to lose weight because that could harm your baby.”
Talk to your health care provider about the number of calories and amounts of food you need during your pregnancy.
It’s important for pregnant women to eat regularly from these My Pyramid food groups to get the foods and nutrients needed for baby and mom:
– Lean meat and beans
– Oils (not a group but allowance has been set)
If you're thinking about steps to reach a healthy weight before pregnancy, the LSU AgCenter Smart Portions Healthy Weight Program provides current, research-based information and recommendations to help Louisiana citizens achieve and maintain a healthy weight by setting realistic goals for better health and learning to balance the food they eat with appropriate physical activity.
For additional information about the Smart Portions Program, contact the LSU AgCenter office in your parish.