Diet and Exercise Advice During Pregnancy Yields Better Birth Outcomes

October 16, 2014
Eileen Oldfield Associate Editor

Offering advice on healthy eating and exercise to overweight or obese pregnant women can improve birth outcomes.

Offering advice on healthy eating and exercise to overweight or obese pregnant women can improve birth outcomes, new research from the University of Adelaide suggests.

“While it might have been expected that healthier eating and increased physical activity during pregnancy would be associated with differences in weight gain, our findings highlight that weight gain in pregnancy is not an ideal measure of pregnancy health,” said lead study author Jodie Dodd, PhD, of the university’s Robinson Research Institute, in a press release. “Importantly, however, these changes in diet and physical activity were directly associated with significant improvements in outcomes for babies.”

According to the researchers, overweight or obese pregnant women who received dietary and lifestyle advice increased their fruit and vegetable intake while simultaneously reducing the percentage of dietary energy derived from saturated fats. The women also increased their physical activity levels, incorporating 15 to 20 minutes of brisk walking on most days of the week, the researchers reported.

Based on the results of the study, which was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and appeared in 2 papers published October 14, 2014, in BMC Medicine, the benefits of those lifestyle changes include reduced odds of moderate to severe respiratory distress syndrome and shorter length of hospital stay. In addition, researchers have previously found that the number of babies weighing >4 kg at birth decline significantly when women receive diet and lifestyle advice during pregnancy.

“Approximately 50% of women are overweight or obese during pregnancy, Until this study was conducted, there had been little evidence about the overall benefits of dietary and lifestyle interventions on this group of women,” said study co-author Rosalie Grivell, PhD, of the Robinson Research Institute, in the press release. “Our hope is that by following some simple, practical, and achievable lifestyle advice, pregnant women can improve their health and the outcomes for their babies. We would, of course, recommend that these lifestyle changes be adopted as much as possible before women become pregnant.”