June 2013

Research Finds Postpartum Obesity More Prevalent Amongst Disadvantaged Women

Mon, 10 June 13 12:26

Women who are socio-economically disadvantaged are 42% more likely than those in the highest income group to be obese following childbirth, according to researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) and the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI).

More than 10,000 mothers living in Ireland took part in the study, which was published recently in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and forms part of the national Growing Up in Ireland project.

Led by Professor Michael Turner, UCD Centre for Human Reproduction (based at Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital), and Professor Richard Layte, economic sociologist at the ESRI, the results found that postpartum obesity is associated with lower household income, smoking, lower breastfeeding duration and earlier completion of full-time education.

According to Professor Turner, the results of the study should have implications for the way in which the state and civil society deliver and communicate public health campaigns related to maternal and post-partum health.

The study shows that public health interventions related to obesity in women with children should be tailored and targeted towards high-risk groups; particularly those who are socio-econonically disadvantaged. The experience of postpartum obesity varies considerably in accordance with socio-economic status. For instance, while the study shows that increased parity (the number of times a women gives birth) amongst poorer women is associated with greater levels of obesity, we found no such association amongst more affluent women, said Professor Turner.

Tackling the problem of postpartum obesity is becoming increasingly important due to the association between obesity and complications in pregnancy.

Professor Layte said:

Becoming a parent can bring with it lifestyle changes that can have serious implications for weight gain, the risk of gestational diabetes in future pregnancies and chronic disease. Pregnancy can be a turning point in lifetime health risks and this research shows that such risks are more concentrated among lower income women. Future studies should investigate why this pattern occurs and what interventions may prevent it. The research shows that health care professionals need to invest more time and effort with lower income couples who are at a greater risk of gaining weight.

The study focused on a representative sample of 10,524 mothers, all of whom gave birth between December 2007 and May 2008. The group was selected from the national Child Benefit Register, maintained by the Department of Social Protection. The group of mothers was sampled nine months after delivery, as part of the national Growing Up in Ireland Study Infant Cohort. The sample is wide-ranging and equivalent to approximately one-sixth of the total number of deliveries in Ireland each year.

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About the Authors

Professor Michael Turner

Professor Michael Turner is the UCD Professor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital. He also is leading research programmes on maternal obesity and fetal growth at the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction. In June 2010, he was appointed to the Health Service Executive (HSE) as Director of the National Programme for obstetrics and gynaecology. He has also previously served from 1992-8 as Master of the Coombe.

Professor Richard Layte

Prof. Richard Layte is joint programme coordinator of Health Research at the ESRI. An economic sociologist, he has worked at the ESRI since 1998. Richard Layte’s work centres on patterns of social and economic disadvantage and inequality in developed countries, the individual and structural drivers of this and its influence on health and well-being across the life course. Richard Layte is a ‘Health’ theme director (with Prof. Tom O’Dowd, Trinity College Dublin) of the Growing Up in Ireland Cohort Study and Director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies in Ireland.