NIH Study Suggests Eating Habits Change Only Slightly After Gestational Diabetes Diagnosis

Jill Murphy, Associate Editor

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that pregnant women only made slight changes to their diet after a gestational diabetes diagnosis.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that pregnant women only made slight changes to their diet after a gestational diabetes diagnosis.

Typically, women with gestational diabetes are advised to decrease their carbohydrate intake. Among the study population, the women did reduce their daily intake of juice and added sugars while increasing their intake of cheese and artificially sweetened beverages. However, some of the patient population did not alter their carbohydrate intake, including women with obesity, those with more than 1 child, Hispanic women, those with a high school degree or less, and those who were between 35 and 41 years of age.

Patients with gestational diabetes have a greater risk of maternal high blood pressure, larger babies, cesarean delivery, low blood sugar in newborns, and development of chronic diabetes later in life, according to the NIH.

“The improvements in diet that we observed were not equitable across all groups of women,” said Stefanie N. Hinkle, PhD, in the press release. “This research highlights the importance of creating individualized programs to ensure that all women with gestational diabetes are successful at modifying their diet and optimizing their health.”

The researchers analyzed an existing data set from the NICHD Fetal Growth Studies, which included surveys on diet and exercise from a diverse patient population at 12 hospital centers across the United States. The analysis on diet included 1371 women, of whom 72 had gestational diabetes. The study team further examined exercise habits, which included 1875 women, of whom 84 had gestational diabetes.

In the study, women with gestational diabetes cut their daily carbohydrate intake to 48 grams primarily by limiting juice consumption by approximately 0.4 cups per day. They also decreased their added sugar consumption by approximately 3.2 teaspoons per day. Conversely, their consumption of cheese increased by 0.3 cups per day and artificially sweetened beverages increased by 0.2 cups per day, according to the NIH.

Further, the team found that women with gestational diabetes did not decrease consumption of whole grains or whole fruit, nor did they compensate for the dietary changes by increasing saturated fats. The study authors noted that these observations are reassuring because complex carbohydrates from whole grains or fruits may be beneficial for gestational diabetes, whereas saturated fats can worsen health outcomes by promoting excessive fetal growth.

Another key finding was that women with gestational diabetes maintained time spent on moderate or vigorous exercises into their third trimester. However, those who did not have gestational diabetes decreased their moderate exercise activities during their third trimester by approximately 20 minutes per week and their vigorous exercise dropped by approximately 9 minutes per week.

The researchers noted that health care providers should take advantage of any touchpoints in which they can aid women with gestational diabetes to improve their lifestyle via changes in diet and exercise habits. Further, they called for additional studies to identify new approaches that can help to improve nutrition and exercise-related behaviors.

REFERENCE

Release: Eating habits change only slightly after gestational diabetes diagnosis, NIH study suggests. NIH. Published May 19, 2021. Accessed May 19, 2021. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/newsroom/news/051921-gestational-diabetes