Daily Mail (U.K.)
Babies’ lives are being put at risk by the soaring number of overweight women in Britain, experts are warning. Babies born to overweight women are more likely to be born prematurely, increasing the likelihood of serious illness and even death.
A study of 1.5 million births in Sweden between 1992 and 2010 found the danger of early delivery rose proportionally with the mother’s weight. Women with the highest BMI (body mass index) also had the highest statistical risk of giving birth prematurely, and especially extremely early.
Compared to women of normal size, an extremely premature birth was 25 per cent more likely for overweight women and 60 per cent more likely for obese mothers. For severely obese (BMI 35-39.9) or extremely obese (BMI 40 or more) women, the corresponding risk was doubled and tripled respectively. Risks of very and moderately preterm deliveries also increased with BMI.
The findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association are alarming with the obesity levels in Britain fast approaching those in the U.S. Three in five adults are overweight or obese possibly explaining the 40,000 babies a year born prematurely, the highest in Europe.
Professor Sven Cnattingius, of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, said: ‘For the individual woman who is overweight or obese, the risk of an extremely preterm delivery is still small. However, these findings are important from a population perspective. Preterm infants and, above all, extremely preterm infants account for a substantial fraction of infant mortality and morbidity in high income countries.’
In the study, his researchers calculated the women’s BMI (weight in kilograms divided by height in square metres) from information given at their first visit to prenatal care. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 was assessed as normal, 25 to 29.9 as overweight, and 30 or more as obese.
Dr Cnattingius said a third of all pregnant women in Sweden are either overweight or obese, and this impacts the number of premature babies. He said: ‘Overweight and obesity also increase the risk of maternal pregnancy complications including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and Caesarean delivery.’
In Sweden there are about 100,000 births a year of which around 250 are extremely early, in that they are delivered more than 12 weeks before the expected date. Another 500 are very premature (8 to 12 weeks too early), and 4,500 moderately so (4 to 8 weeks).
The study also found the risk was substantially explained by obesity-related diseases such as the severe pregnancy complication preeclampsia that endangers the health of both mother and child.