Obese women and their babies at higher health risk, study says

WASHINGTON — Obese women take on a huge medical challenge when they become
pregnant. They are more apt to have complications, and a new study indicates
their newborns may be far more likely to die.

A team of American and Swedish researchers analyzed more than 1.8 million
birth records over 18 years from Sweden’s national registry. They found that
the risk of infant mortality rose in direct proportion to the weight of the

Severely obese women were 2 1/2 times more likely to lose their babies than
women of normal weight. Two-thirds of those infant deaths occurred within the
first 28 days of life, and the reasons included both sudden infant death
syndrome and birth asphyxia — when the baby’s brain does not get enough
oxygen before, during or right after birth.

“Certainly, this is more evidence that obesity is a major problem in America,
and it may be impacting not only the individual who has the disease but future
generations,” says Dr.
Cynthia King
, an OB-GYN with Capital Women’s Care — one of the largest practices of its kind
in the region.

King says it is important to remember that, while the researchers established
an association between obesity and infant mortality, they did not go into
exactly why babies born to obese mothers were at greater risk. One possible
cause could be a change in the body chemistry of an obese woman during
pregnancy — or it could have something to do with her metabolism, or even
stress levels.

All the same, the study results — published in the British
Medical Journal
— add more impetus to calls for a national public health
campaign against obesity, much like the successful decades-old anti-smoking
effort in the United States.

Although a lot more research is need on the infant mortality link, King says
studies already establish a direct cause-and-effect connection between obesity
and major complications of pregnancy such as “increased risk of gestational
diabetes, increased risk of C-section.”

The bottom line is, healthy women are more likely to have healthy babies. And
an obese woman who loses some weight before conceiving is helping both herself
and her child.

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