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Tackling obesity risks during pregnancy

25 November 2009

Pregnant lady in green top

A joint University and NHS study designed to establish whether encouraging obese pregnant women to eat more healthily and take more exercise has a positive impact on both mother and child has received a £1M funding boost.

The Healthy Eating and Lifestyle in Pregnancy (HELP) project, funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative, will see researchers from the Department of Primary Care and Public Health work alongside NHS midwives and ‘Slimming World’ consultants to help encourage obese pregnant women to moderate their weight gain during pregnancy and lose weight after the birth of their child by eating healthily and doing regular exercise.

Dr Sharon Simpson, School of Medicine, who will lead the study, said: "Pregnancy is a key time of change in women’s lives, when intervening on diet and physical activity could have a long term impact on both mother and child. This study is a novel way of working, involving a partnership between the NHS and a commercial organisation, to deliver an intervention which we hope will help women to manage their weight."

Obesity in pregnancy remains a growing problem with an estimated 1 in 5 women in the UK attending antenatal care being defined as obese. Obesity is linked to increased risk of complications during pregnancy or childbirth and, in some cases, can result in pregnancy-induced hypertension, induction of labour and caesarean section.

Being overweight or obese has also been identified as a factor in more than half of maternal deaths between 2003-2005 and antenatal care costs are higher in overweight and obese women.

The study, which starts in January 2010, aims to recruit 570 women through 20 recruitment centres across England and Wales. The results of the study will be published in 2013 and, if successful, it is hoped the project will be rolled-out to maternity units across England and Wales.

The study will see researchers from the University’s South East Wales Trials Unit work alongside frontline NHS midwifes.

Karen Jewell, Consultant Midwife with Cardiff and Vale ULHB and advisor to the HELP study said: "Initial findings from a pilot study have been encouraging; we found that receiving this type of advice has helped pregnant women moderate their weight gain, whereas during previous pregnancies they’ve gained up to five stone. Not putting on additional weight has allowed them to enjoy a normal birth and given them more confidence."

"Midwives and Obstetricians are keen to support women in addressing lifestyle changes in pregnancy as this is important, not just for pregnancy, but for their future family’s health. "

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