Excess weight gain during pregnancy linked to higher risk of early death

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A new study led by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and published in The Lancet has found a concerning link between excessive weight gain during pregnancy and higher risks of heart disease and diabetes-related deaths later in life.

This groundbreaking analysis drew from 50 years of data, shedding light on the potential long-term consequences of pregnancy-related weight gain.

While the study encompassed individuals with varying weight statuses before pregnancy, it surprisingly found no increased risk among those who were already obese.

These findings emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy and may pave the way for more effective support for pregnant individuals.

The Collaborative Perinatal Project: A Glimpse into the Past

To uncover these insights, the research team examined data from the Collaborative Perinatal Project.

This project gathered information from a diverse group of individuals who gave birth in the 1950s or 1960s and followed their health records until 2016, spanning approximately five decades.

The data included details about their body mass indices (BMI) and weight changes throughout pregnancy. This historical data was then compared to contemporary pregnancy weight gain recommendations.

Modern Guidelines for Pregnancy Weight Gain

In 2009, modern guidelines for healthy pregnancy weight gain were established, taking into account a person’s pre-pregnancy weight.

These guidelines recommend weight gain within the range of 28 to 40 pounds for individuals classified as “underweight” by BMI standards and 11 to 20 pounds for those categorized as “obese.”

Alarmingly, nearly half of pregnant individuals today exceed these recommendations.

The Relationship between Weight Gain and Mortality

Among the individuals in the study, approximately 39 percent had passed away by 2016. The research revealed a clear connection between pre-pregnancy BMI and mortality rates.

Those with lower BMIs before pregnancy experienced lower mortality rates compared to those with higher BMIs. This suggests that pre-pregnancy health plays a vital role in long-term outcomes.

The Impact of Excessive Weight Gain

For those who were “underweight” before pregnancy but gained more weight than recommended, the risk of death related to heart disease increased by a staggering 84 percent.

Even individuals classified as “normal” weight before pregnancy, which constituted about two-thirds of the cohort, faced a nine percent rise in all-cause mortality when they exceeded recommended weight gain.

Moreover, their risk of heart disease-related death climbed by 20 percent.

“Overweight” individuals had a 12 percent increased risk of dying when they gained more weight than recommended, along with a 12 percent increase in their risk of diabetes-related death.

The Absence of Correlation among the Obese

Surprisingly, the study did not find a correlation between excessive weight gain during pregnancy and subsequent deaths among those already in the obese range.

Although this study was not designed to investigate this specific issue, the researchers speculate that the high baseline mortality rate among obese individuals may have influenced this outcome.

The Complexity of Pregnancy Weight Gain

Weight gain during pregnancy is a multifaceted issue influenced by factors such as healthcare access, nutrition, and stress.

Understanding the long-term risks associated with unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy is just one piece of the puzzle.

The research team is committed to exploring various factors, including social, structural, biological, and individual aspects, to better support pregnant individuals in achieving healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

A Path Forward

Lead author Stefanie Hinkle, Ph.D., expressed hope that this study will drive efforts to identify new, safe, and effective ways to assist pregnant individuals in maintaining healthy weight during pregnancy.

By adhering to current weight gain guidelines, pregnant individuals may protect themselves from potential negative impacts on their health in the decades that follow.

These findings underscore the importance of promoting healthy weight management during pregnancy for the well-being of both mothers and their babies.

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The research findings can be found in The Lancet.

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