One woman in five attending maternity units is obese

ONE IN five pregnant women attending a Dublin maternity hospital for antenatal care is now obese, a new study has found.

ONE IN five pregnant women attending a Dublin maternity hospital for antenatal care is now obese, a new study has found.

Details of the findings of the study, carried out this summer at the Coombe Women's Hospital, were presented at a conference in Dublin yesterday.

Prof Michael Turner, UCD professor of obstetrics and gynaecology in the Coombe, who presented the data, said the growing number of pregnant women who are obese is posing problems not just for the women, but also for staff.

"It is posing problems in that if a woman is obese, it is hard to do an ultrasound scan, the imaging is poor," Prof Turner said. "It is harder to monitor the blood pressure in a group that are at risk of getting hypertension. It is harder to get access intravenously to give fluids or a blood transfusion in a group of women who are at higher risk of post-partum haemorrhage.

"Our operating tables are not big enough for women with morbid obesity and then there are difficulties for the staff, and in particular the midwifery staff, in lifting these women around in the beds.

"It is also a problem for the babies too in that . . . women who are obese are more likely to have an unexplained stillbirth, they are more likely to have a baby that weighs greater than 4.5kg and there are lifelong consequences for the mother in that she is more likely to have diabetes or cardiovascular disease in the future.

"There are also lifelong consequences for her offspring in that the children of obese women are more likely to become obese themselves and are more likely to develop what is caused metabolic syndrome," he added.

Prof Turner said the obese women in the study were those who had a body mass index greater than 29.9 which "is the international standard that is being used for classifying obesity".

Furthermore, he said, when the women themselves were asked about their weight, they tended to under-report it.

Going on the measurements they gave, the percentage of pregnant women who were obese booking for antenatal care at the Coombe would be 16 per cent but when actual measurements were taken at the hospital, this rose to 20 per cent.

The professor said he believed there was an association between obesity and the proliferation of fast-food outlets.

"One of the concerns you have in terms of lifestyle is that so many of our women in their 20s and 30s are not cooking meals at home in the way that they used to and that they and their children are depending on fast food and we have to look at what we're eating.

"I am also concerned when you read about the amount of sugar that is being added to food. That is one of the culprits and the second obvious culprit is the lack of exercise.

"One of the bits of bad advice that is given to women when they are pregnant is that they're told to rest up whereas . . . all of the evidence is that women who are fit and who stay fit do better during pregnancy and during labour."

Prof Turner stressed there were major advantages for women who were obese to lose weight before they got pregnant. If they did they were more likely to conceive quickly, less likely to have complications and there were also advantages for the mother's lifelong health in losing weight.

He was speaking at a conference on lifestyle diseases and their management in the 21st century, organised by the VHI.