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Maternal Obesity Raises Risk Of Birth Defects, Study Says

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:14 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Obesity, Overweight, Women's Health, Birth Defects, Pregnancy, Protecting Your Family, Spina Bifida

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IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / pregnancy and scale / author: Brosa

Women who are obese during pregnancy have a greater risk of giving birth to a baby with certain birth defects, including spina bifida and other defects, according to British researchers.

The study findings underscore obesity’s role as a major health problem and adds to previous studies that have found being too heavy during pregnancy carries risks for both mother and child.

For the study, researchers combined data from 18 studies to analyze the risk of abnormalities of babies whose mothers were obese or overweight.

They found, obese women were nearly twice as likely to give birth to a baby with neural tube defects, which are caused by the incomplete development of the brain or spinal cord. For one such defect, spina bifida, the risk more than doubled.

Researchers also found an increased risk of heart defects (30% or higher), cleft lip and cleft palate (20% or higher), water on the brain (60% or higher) and limb abnormalities (30% or higher).

Spina bifida is a birth defect that afflicts approximately 1 in every 2,000 children, so the risk, even among obese women is relatively low. The condition is characterized by a malformation of one or more vertebrae that surround the spinal cord.

One-third of women 15 and older are obese in the U.S., notes the authors, and those numbers are expected to rise. Obese is considered as a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30, while overweight is classed as a BMI over 25. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weigh that applies to men and women.

“The last thing we want is to scare women. Rather, we hope to inform and encourage them to get preconception counseling about weight loss,” said Judith Rankin, PhD, a study co-author and a reader in material and perinatal epidemiology at the University of Newcastle in England.

The study, titled “Maternal Overweight and Obesity and the Risk of Congenital Anomalies,” is published in the February 11 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). #


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