Obesity rates among new mothers up 20% in Coombe hospital
Trend partly driven by Irish women waiting until 30s to become mothers, study finds
‘If you are obese, it is harder to get pregnant and, when you do, the complication rates are higher in terms of issues like Caesareans and diabetes.’ Photograph: iStock
Obesity rates among new mothers have jumped by almost 20 per cent at one of the State’s largest maternity hospitals as women put off motherhood until their 30s, a study shows.
In 2017, normal-weight mothers giving birth in the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital were in a minority for the first time, the research shows.
The trend has major medical and financial implications as obese women suffer more complications and require more monitoring and interventions, according to the authors from UCD, DCU and the Coombe.
The study, which is based on the BMI measurements of almost 68,000 mothers who gave birth in the hospital between 2010 and 2017, found overall obesity rates increased from 16 per cent to 18.9 per cent. The number of overweight mothers remained constant at almost 30 per cent while the normal-weight mothers decreased over the period, to 49.9 per cent in 2017.
The authors say the escalation in obesity is too fast for genetic explanations and is probably due to greater intake of unhealthy foods and decreased physical activity. But they also link the trend to major socio-demographic shifts arising from Ireland’s “economic rollercoaster” over the past decade.
“Apart from the rise in maternal obesity rates, which increases case complexity in the hospitals, what is interesting is that this is driven in part by Irish women deferring motherhood until their 30s,” said co-author Prof Michael Turner. The average age of mothers increased over the period from 30.5 to 32.2 years.
“Women are putting off having their first baby as more stay on in full-time education and, in the last 10 years, employment rates have improved relative to men. During the downturn, men were more likely to emigrate while women stayed and upskilled.”
“It’s great that women are exercising greater choice, but in reproductive terms this is coming at a price. If you are obese, it is harder to get pregnant and, when you do, the complication rates are higher in terms of issues like Caesareans and diabetes,” said Prof Turner.
Smoking rates among mothers declined from 15.1 per cent in 2010 to 9.7 per cent in 2017, while the proportion who said they were consuming alcohol dropped from 2.2 per cent to 0.8 per cent.
The study concludes: “The economic costs of maternal obesity for the health services and for the women personally are unknown in an Irish setting, but it is likely that the trends we observed in this study have and will continue to incur substantial increases in healthcare expenditure.”