A healthy diet and moderate exercise can help women avoid diabetes in pregnancy

by Barbara Hewitt on July 26, 2017

Pregnant women who have a healthy diet and regular moderate exercise are less likely to develop diabetes during their pregnancy, a major piece of new research has found.

The study, described as the largest research project in the world looking at lifestyle interventions in pregnancy, involved more than 50 researchers from 41 institutions and data from over 12,000 women, also found they were less likely to have a caesarean or gain extra weight.


The research, led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), points out that in the UK, for example, it is recommended that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week.

However, half of all women of child bearing age worldwide are overweight or obese, which puts both mother and offspring at risk in pregnancy and later life. Previous studies have found that diet and physical activity have an overall benefit on limiting weight gain during pregnancy, but findings have varied for their protective effect on maternal and offspring outcomes.

‘Our findings are important because it is often thought that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise because it may harm the baby,’ said Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from QMUL’s Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health.

‘But we show that the babies are not affected by physical activity or dieting, and that there are additional benefits including a reduction in maternal weight gain, diabetes in pregnancy, and the risk of requiring a caesarean section,’ she explained.

‘This should be part of routine advice in pregnancy, given by practitioners as well as midwives. Now that we’re able to link the advice to why it’s beneficial for mothers to be, we hope mothers are more likely to adopt these lifestyle changes,’ she added.

The research looked at the individual participant data for 12,526 pregnant women across 36 previous trials in 16 countries, which compared the effects of dieting, including restriction of sugar sweetened beverages, promoting low fat dairy products, increase in fruits and vegetables, and physical activity such as moderate intensity including aerobic classes and stationary cycling, and resistance training for muscle groups.

Dieting combined with physical activity significantly reduced the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy by an average of 0.7 kg compared to the control group and changes in lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes in pregnancy by 24%.

Diabetes normally affects over one in 10 mothers in pregnancy, and increases risks of complications in mother and baby. But currently in the UK, only obese women are offered access to a dietician and specific antenatal classes for advice on diet and lifestyle, to minimise their weight gain.

‘Often with interventions like these, certain groups benefit more than others, but we’ve shown that diet and physical activity has a beneficial effect across all groups, irrespective of your body mass index (BMI), age or ethnicity. So these interventions have the potential to benefit a huge number of people,’ Thangaratinam pointed out.

She added that the lack of adverse effects should reassure mothers who have traditionally been advised not to undertake structured exercise or manage their diet in pregnancy.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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