Study Offers First Evidence-Based Caloric Recommendations for Pregnant Women with Obesity

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Eating More Can Lead to Unhealthy Weight Gain for Moms and Their Babies
Released: Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Baton Rouge, Louisiana — Pregnant women with obesity are getting bad advice about how many calories they should add to their daily diets, advice that could lead to health problems for both the mothers and their babies.

New research published in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests that women with obesity do not need to add any calories to their daily diets during their pregnancies to gain the recommended amount of weight. The findings from LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center provide the first dietary intake recommendations for pregnant women with obesity that are based on a study that actually involved pregnant women with obesity.

“What happens during pregnancy helps determine the future health of women and their children,” said Leanne Redman, PhD, and Director of Pennington Biomedical’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Women’s Health Laboratory. “Pregnant women who gain an unhealthy amount of weight face a higher risk of health issues, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and so do their babies. These risks are even higher for women with obesity.”

The new study’s findings contradict longstanding calorie consumption guidelines for pregnant women with obesity.

The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant women with obesity add 200-300 calories – the number of calories in a crème-filled donut – to their daily diets during the second and third trimesters. Doing so, according to the academy, will help pregnant women with obesity limit their total weight gain to the recommended 11-20 pounds.

However, the calorie intake recommendation is based on research in women without obesity. Studies have consistently shown that two-thirds of women with obesity gain more than the recommended amount of weight.

In addition, studies of more than 6,300 participants show that lifestyle interventions for pregnant women with obesity – improving diet and increasing physical activity – have been of little help in preventing excess weight gain.

In its new study, Pennington Biomedical, one of the world’s leading obesity research centers, enrolled and followed 72 pregnant women with obesity. Researchers found that adding the recommended 200-300 calories per day produced gestational weight gain in excess of the academy recommendations.

The scientists say physicians should advise patients to focus on improving the quality of their diet without adding more calories.

The study, now available in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, includes a commentary titled “Time to Change Weight Gain Recommendations for Pregnant Women with Obesity” by Dr. Sarah Comstock of Michigan State University. Dr. Comstock studies the impact of maternal obesity on infant microbiota and immune development. In the article, Dr. Comstock says the results of Pennington Biomedical’s study should guide new recommendations on obesity during pregnancy.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health through awards R01DK099175; U54GM104940, which supports the Louisiana Clinical & Translational Sciences Center; and P30DK0724, which supports the Pennington Biomedical/Louisiana Nutrition Obesity Research Center.



About LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center

LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The center conducts basic, clinical and population research, and is affiliated with Louisiana State University. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.