- A new study examined whether excess weight gain during pregnancy was linked to an increased risk of death due to certain health conditions later in life.
- Researchers found that gaining more than the recommended weight during pregnancy was linked to an increased risk of death due to heart disease and diabetes.
- Evidence suggests that almost half of pregnant people gain more weight than is recommended by current guidelines.
A higher risk of death was observed in most weight groups studied, including those who were underweight, normal weight, or overweight prior to their pregnancies, according to the study, published on October 19 in
The researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania hope the findings shed light on the health risks linked to high pregnancy weight gain and help healthcare workers identify new ways to help people achieve healthier pregnancies.
“Excessive weight gain during pregnancy is linked to elevated long-term risks of cardiovascular and diabetes-related mortality, varying by pre-pregnancy body mass index, highlighting the importance of following weight gain guidelines for enduring health,” Dr. Liviu Cojocaru, an OB-GYN in the maternal-fetal medicine department at the University of Miami Health System and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Healthline.
Cojocaru was not involved in the study.
To understand how weight gain during pregnancy impacts future health, the researchers evaluated approximately 50 years of health data sourced from 46,042 individuals who participated in the Collaborative Perinatal Project.
The team analyzed the participants’ body mass index (BMI), and weight changes over time and recorded deaths of any cause, along with deaths related to cardiovascular and diabetes-related causes.
During the follow-up time, 17,901 individuals died.
The team found that among those underweight before pregnancy, with a BMI less than 18.5 kg/m2, excess weight gain during pregnancy was linked to an 84% higher risk of death due to cardiovascular causes.
Among people who had a normal weight before pregnancy, a BMI between 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2, high weight gain during pregnancy was associated with a 9% higher risk of death from any cause and a 20% higher risk of death from cardiovascular causes.
Finally, people who were overweight before pregnancy with a BMI ranging from 25 to 29.9 kg/m2, and experienced excess gestational weight gain had a 12% higher risk of death from any cause and a 12% higher risk of dying from diabetes.
There was no heightened risk of death among people who had obesity prior to their pregnancy.
Dr. Suzy Lipinski, a board certified OB-GYN at at Pediatrix Medical Group, told Healthline the study does not show cause and effect, but it does demonstrate that increased weight gain was associated with future health issues.
“We know that those who gain excess weight in pregnancy are more likely to keep that extra weight on after delivery and that carrying extra weight increases [the] risk for diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer,” she said.
Lipinski was not involved in the study.
According to Cojocaru, high weight gain can result from a combination of factors, not just the pregnancy. These may include:
- dietary choices
- reduced physical activity
- hormonal changes
- emotional stress
For example, increased caloric intake driven by hormonal changes combined with reduced physical activity can accelerate weight gain.
Meanwhile, the stress of pregnancy can impact eating habits and activity levels.
Underlying medical conditions can lead to weight gain, too.
For example, weight gain can result from fluid retention, a common symptom of preeclampsia, which causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy, according to Lipinski.
“We know that those with preeclampsia are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease — high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease — in the future,” Lipinski said.
Barriers to healthcare access may also play a role.
“Limited access can result in less guidance on proper weight management during pregnancy, possibly leading to excessive weight gain,” Cojocaru said.
Cojucaru said that elevated weight gain during pregnancy can set a trajectory for long-term health complications.
Excess weight can cause
“Long-term hypertension is a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes,” Cojocaru said.
The findings can serve as a reminder to doctors to emphasize weight management in prenatal care.
Healthcare providers can provide tailored recommendations, including personalized dietary plans, physical activity goals, regular weight monitoring, and psychological support, said Cojocaru.
“By discussing the risks tied to cardiovascular and diabetes-related mortality, doctors can emphasize the lifelong significance of adhering to weight gain guidelines, not just for the pregnancy term but for the mother’s overall well-being,” Cojocaru said.
Many patients are motivated to make healthy decisions during pregnancy to support the health of their infant, said Lipinski.
“Being able to show them with studies like this that the impact goes well beyond just the pregnancy time period is even further motivation to make healthy choices,” she said.
A new report found that excess weight gain during pregnancy is linked to a greater risk of death from heart disease or diabetes in the following decades.
The researchers hope the findings shed light on the health risks linked to high pregnancy weight gain and help healthcare workers identify new ways to help people achieve healthier pregnancies.