Pregnant Obese Women Shouldn't Gain Weight, Study Suggests

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Research Reveals: Babies

Experts disagree on weight gain guidelines. Credit: Tobyotter, Flickr

A four-year study, launched in October by Kaiser Permanente, has begun working with obese pregnant women to ensure that they gain little or no additional weight during pregnancy.

In May, the Institute of Medicine issued guidelines lowering the minimum weight gain for obese women to just 11 pounds. Previously, guidelines had suggested a weight gain of at least 15 pounds. But researchers conducting this new study, called "Healthy Moms," say zero weight gain may be the best thing for obese pregnant women and their babies.

"It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that women control their weight during pregnancy, but these women are already carrying between 50 and 100 extra pounds - and for them any more weight gain could be very dangerous," said Vic Stevens, PhD, principal investigator who has studied weight loss and weight maintenance for more than 30 years, in a statement about the study.

Although women often make positive health changes when becoming pregnant (quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol are common), obese women tend to gain more weight than is recommended.The "Healthy Moms" trial is working with 180 obese pregnant women from Washington and Oregon who are members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan. Half will receive one-time dietary and exercise advice. The others will attend two individual counseling sessions and then weekly group counseling throughout their pregnancy. It sounds a bit like the traditional "Weight Watchers" model, but focused on a healthy pregnancy: At the group counseling sessions, women will be weighed and encouraged to keep and turn in daily food and exercise diaries.

The goal will be zero weight gain. If participants do gain weight, researchers hope to limit it to 3 percent of their baseline weight. That's a huge departure from the traditional "gain weight, because you're eating for two" instructions. But researchers say this change may help to prevent problems including preeclampsia, diabetes, birth injuries and weight retention after pregnancy.

Related: Health Problems Associated With Adult Obesity, Obese Women May Be Able To Lose Weight Safely During Pregnancy

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