Obesity and Maternal Health in the USA

 

A few months ago, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Plus-Size Wars.” The article was largely focused on a discussion of the growing number of overweight or obese women in America and how the garment/fashion industry has responded (or failed to respond) to this pool of women. A few figures struck me: that 64% of American women are overweight and that the average American woman weighs 164.7 pounds (74.7 kgs). Without a measurement of height, this doesn’t necessarily mean much, so I Googled the average height of American women. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average height for an adult female in the US is 5 feet 4.6 inches.

So the average American women is about 165 lbs and a little over 5’4.

Healthy weight is usually determined by body mass index (BMI). A woman with a BMI of 25-30 is considered overweight; a BMI over 30 is obese. So if you are 5’4.6 inches and 164.7 lbs, what is your BMI likely to be?

According to the BMI calculator on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, it’s 27.7, putting the average American woman squarely in the category of overweight.*

 Okay. So what does this mean for the average pregnant American woman? Over the past months, I read a number of articles about the complications that arise due to being overweight or obese- preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, difficulty reading sonograms or performing c-sections when necessary. While disturbing, this does not surprise me- clearly being overweight makes life more difficult for the mother. But what about the baby?

In another NYTimes article entitled “Weight Problems May Begin in the Womb,” the issue of maternal obesity was addressed in the context of how it might impact children in utero. According to this article “Excessive weight-gain in pregnancy, recent findings show, can result in bigger-than-average babies who are prenatally programmed to become overweight children.”  The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported that over a third of normal weight women and more than half of overweight or obese women gain more weight than is healthy during their pregnancies. And it isn’t just that women are gaining too much weight during pregnancy- it’s that they are already overweight to begin with.

Lifestyle modification is key for women who are overweight and interested in having children and Saving Mothers is working with the support of the March of Dimes to move the dial on this important issue. For further information, you can go here. Also, here:

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/perils-pregnancy-obesity-advanced-maternal-age/story?id=12831143

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/07brody.html?scp=1&sq=obesity%20womb&st=cse

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/opinion/03kristof.html?scp=3&sq=obesity%20womb&st=cse

*Take BMI with a grain of salt- it can be misleading- but for the purposes of this discussion, it helps to provide some context


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