Proportion of obese pregnant women ‘has doubled’ in decade

Their study findings, presented at this week at this year’s European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow, also revealed a rising incidence of caesarean section births alongside increasing body mass index.

“Measures to try and halt or reverse this trend are paramount”

Laura Jane Erunlu

In 2018, around one in four pregnant women with a normal BMI (18.5-25 kg/m2) had a caesarean section, compared with more than one in two pregnant women with morbid obesity (BMI above 40).

The prevalence of obesity within the UK has increased markedly over the past 30 years, noted the researchers behind the new study.

In 2010, almost half of pregnant women in Scotland were overweight or obese with one in five classed as obese.

Lead author Dr Laura Jane Erunlu, from the University Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, 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,” she said. “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.”

Previous research has shown that 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. The MBRRACE-UK review found that 52% of pregnant women who died in the UK and Ireland between 2009 and 2012 were overweight or obese.

“These complications pose specific challenges to our maternity services”

Laura Jane Erunlu

Dr Erunlu and colleagues aimed to quantify maternal obesity prevalence and trends at the Ayrshire Maternity Unit in Kilmarnock that serves a population of 400,000 people and delivers around 3,000 babies each year.

She said: “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,” she said.

She added: “Both increasing BMI and the rising incidence of caesarean section in pregnant women with obesity mandate a greater need for obstetric theatre services and accompanying medical and nursing staff.”

The authors acknowledge that their findings are limited by the fact that it is a retrospective observational study. The data set was reliant upon accurate data entry by clinical staff.

The electronic record was introduced in 2009 and, therefore, they expect that data quality immediately after its introduction may be less accurate.