Healthy lifestyle could cut gestational diabetes numbers in half

by Barbara Hewitt on October 2, 2014

A healthy lifestyle could cut the number of diabetes cases during pregnancy by half, according to a new study.

Smoking, a poor diet, inactivity and being overweight increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes by 48%, research in the United States has found.


Smoking, a poor diet, inactivity and being overweight increase gestational diabetes risk by 48%

The study of over 14,000 women concludes that around half of all cases of diabetes during pregnancy could be prevented if women ate well, exercised regularly and stopped smoking before and during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes is a common pregnancy complication that has long term adverse health implications for both mothers and babies.

The researchers found that the strongest individual risk factor was being overweight or obese, that is, having a body mass index (BMI) above 25, before pregnancy. Women with a BMI above 33 were more than four times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who had a normal BMI before pregnancy.

Women who had a combination of three low risk factors of not smoking, engaging in regular physical activity, and being a healthy weight, were 41% less likely to develop the condition than other pregnant women.

This figure rose to 52% if they began their pregnancy at normal weight. Importantly though, not smoking, eating well and exercising were associated with substantial benefits even for women who were overweight or obese before pregnancy.

The percentage of the four risk factors combined of smoking, inactivity, being overweight and poor diet was 47.5%, indicating an estimated 48% of all gestational diabetes pregnancies could have been avoided if women adhered to all four pre-pregnancy lifestyle factors.

‘Our data indicates that adherence to a healthful lifestyle in the period before pregnancy is associated with a substantially lower risk of gestational diabetes. Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout one’s reproductive life would confer the greatest benefit,’ the study says.

‘A healthy diet and regular exercise were associated with a substantial lower risk, independent of their benefit on body weight. Importantly, among both normal weight and overweight or obese women, a healthy lifestyle was related to a lower risk,’ it explains.

‘Our findings also highlight the potential benefit of integrating lifestyle counselling into preconception care. Although it is always challenging to change behaviour and lifestyle; the time before and during pregnancy could represent an opportunity to change diet and lifestyle, as these women might be particularly motivated to adhere to advice to improve pregnancy and/or birth outcomes,’ it concludes.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, provides valuable information, according to Professor Sara Meltzer of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

In an editorial, she poses the question of whether doctors should encourage all women planning pregnancy to adopt these healthier lifestyles, or whether attempts should be limited to those presently at higher risk.

Although successful modification of diet, exercise, body weight and smoking habits are not easy for anyone, these findings should give health professionals and women planning a pregnancy the encouragement they need to try even harder, she said.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the 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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