Rate of pregnant women with obesity doubles in decade

Author: Adrian O'Dowd

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The rate of pregnant women who are obese has doubled over the past decade, according to new research* being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) being held in Glasgow this week.

The findings of the research led by Dr Laura Jane Erunlu of University Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, Scotland, also revealed rising incidence of caesarean section births alongside increasing BMI.

The prevalence of obesity within the UK has increased over the past 30 years. In 2010, almost half of pregnant women in Scotland were overweight or obese, with one in five classed as obese.

Obesity in pregnancy substantially increases the risk of maternal complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and miscarriage. Obesity can also cause problems for the baby such as a larger birth weight.

Previous research has found that more than half (52%) of pregnant women who died in the UK and Ireland between 2009 and 2012 were overweight or obese.

For the new hospital-based study, a poster of which was presented at this week’s ECO event, Dr Erunlu and colleagues aimed to quantify maternal obesity prevalence and trends at the Ayrshire Maternity Unit in Kilmarnock, which serves a population of 400,000 people and delivers around 3,000 babies each year.

The team searched the unit’s electronic database for all women who delivered in the Ayrshire Maternity Unit (AMU) from 2009 to 2018 and average body mass index (BMI, Kg/ m2) per year was calculated.

Each category of BMI was considered against birth weight and method of delivery, while records with incomplete information within those parameters were excluded from analysis.

Analysis of the results showed that the proportion of pregnant women with obesity doubled over the past decade, from around 22% in 2010 to 44% in 2018.

Growing incidence of caesarean section births alongside increasing BMI was also noted. In 2018, approximately a quarter of pregnant women with a normal BMI (BMI 18.5-25 kg/m2) had a caesarean section compared with more than half of pregnant women with morbid obesity (BMI above 40).

The authors acknowledged that their findings were limited by the fact that it was a retrospective observational study, the data set was reliant upon accurate data entry by clinical staff and that the electronic record was introduced in 2009 so data quality immediately after its introduction could be less accurate.

Nevertheless, Dr Erunlu said: “These latest figures are concerning and show how much of a worsening problem obesity in pregnancy has become. This may reflect changes across the UK.

“Measures to try and halt or reverse this trend are paramount. Even prior to conception women need to be thinking about maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating healthily to give their baby the best possible start in life.

“Pregnant women now tend to be older, heavier, and have more complex medical histories when they become pregnant. These complications pose specific challenges to our maternity services, and we must shape our healthcare services with this changing demographic in mind.”


*Erunlu L, Clark A, and Junkin R. The obese parturient: more than baby weight. Department of Anaesthetics, University Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, Scotland. Presented at the European Congress on Obesity, Glasgow, 1 May 2019.

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