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Keywords:

  • Infant health outcomes;
  • maternal health outcomes;
  • overweight or obesity;
  • randomised controlled trial;
  • systematic review

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Please cite this paper as: Dodd J, Grivell R, Crowther C, Robinson J. Antenatal interventions for overweight or obese pregnant women: a systematic review of randomised trials. BJOG 2010;117:1316–1326.

Background  Overweight and obesity during pregnancy is an increasing health problem.

Objective  A systematic review to assess the benefits and harms of antenatal dietary or lifestyle interventions for pregnant women who are overweight or obese.

Search strategy  The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CENTRAL) was searched (last search January 2010). Reference lists of retrieved studies were searched by hand. No date or language restrictions were used.

Selection criteria  Randomised controlled trials comparing antenatal dietary and/or lifestyle or other interventions with no treatment for overweight or obese women were considered. Studies were evaluated independently for appropriateness for inclusion and methodological quality. The primary outcome was large-for-gestational-age infants.

Data collection and analysis  Nine randomised controlled trials were included involving 743 women who were overweight or obese during pregnancy. Seven trials compared a dietary intervention with standard antenatal care.

Main results  There were no statistically significant differences identified between women who received an antenatal intervention and those who did not for the large-for-gestational-age infant outcome (three studies; 366 women; risk ratio 2.02; 95% CI 0.84, 4.86) or mean gestational weight gain [four studies; 416 women; weighted mean difference −3.10 kg; 95% CI −8.32, 2.13 (random-effects model)]. There were no statistically significant differences identified for other reported outcomes.

Author’s conclusions  The effect of providing an antenatal dietary intervention for overweight or obese pregnant women on maternal and infant health outcomes remains unclear.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Obesity is listed as the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide,1 contributing to a significant reduction in adult life expectancy through an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type-II diabetes.1 Overweight and obese women represent a significant and increasing problem encountered in obstetric practice, with estimates suggesting that approximately 35% of pregnant women in Australia have a body mass index (BMI) >25 kg/m2.2 There are well-documented risks associated with obesity in pregnancy, including hypertension and pre-eclampsia,3–7 gestational diabetes,3,5 infection,3 thromboembolic disease,7 a need for the induction of labour,8 Caesarean birth,3–6,8 and stillbirth.4,9

Similarly, infants born to women who are obese are more likely to be large for gestational age,3,4 require neonatal intensive care,10 or be diagnosed with a congenital anomaly.10 There are a number of factors that have been identified as increasing an individual’s risk of obesity during childhood, the most consistent and independent of other factors being high infant birthweight and high maternal BMI.11–14 Obesity in childhood has reached alarming proportions, with estimates suggesting that over 20% of children aged 6–11 years are overweight or obese.15,16 Of greater concern, over 20% of 2- to 3-year-old Australian children are considered to be overweight or obese.17

There is considerable information available in the literature describing the effects of obesity during pregnancy and childbirth, and its associated risk of ongoing health problems for the woman’s offspring. It is unclear whether antenatal intervention for women who are overweight or obese is effective in limiting gestational weight gain, whether there are additional benefits in terms of improved maternal and infant health outcomes, and whether there are any sustained benefits for the infant, such as reducing the risk of child obesity. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the benefits and harms associated with the provision of antenatal dietary and/or lifestyle intervention for pregnant women who are overweight or obese.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

We searched PUBMED, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CENTRAL), and the Australian and International Clinical Trials registers using the following free-text search terms: pregnancy, obesity, overweight, dietary intervention, lifestyle intervention, and randomis(z)ed controlled trial. The reference lists of the retrieved studies were searched by hand, and no date or language restrictions were placed on the search (date of last search January 2010). Our review followed the methods detailed in the Cochrane Handbook.18

Study inclusion and exclusion criteria

All published randomised controlled trials in which antenatal dietary and/or lifestyle advice or intervention was provided to pregnant women who were overweight or obese were considered for inclusion. Trials were excluded where information was available in abstract form only. Women were defined as overweight if their BMI was ≥25 kg/m2, and were defined as obese if their BMI was ≥30 kg/m2.

Outcomes of the review

The primary outcome was a large-for-gestational-age infant (defined as a birthweight of greater than the 90th centile for gestation and infant sex or a birthweight >4000 g, as defined by the trial authors). The secondary outcomes included mean gestational weight gain, hypertension, pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth before 37 weeks of gestation, infection, need for induction of labour, Caesarean section, postpartum haemorrhage requiring blood transfusion, perinatal death (stillbirth and neonatal death), congenital anomalies, infant birthweight of >4500 g, infant birthweight of <2500 g, Apgar score of <7 at 5 minutes of age, hypoglycaemia requiring intravenous treatment, hyperbilirubinaemia requiring treatment, admission to neonatal intensive care unit, and birth trauma. Childhood outcomes of relevance relate to body size (including height, weight, and BMI) and body composition. The outcome definitions were those used by the individual trial authors.

Evaluation of studies for inclusion

Studies under consideration were evaluated independently for appropriateness for inclusion and methodological quality without consideration of their results by two authors (JD and RG), according to the PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews of randomised trials.19 There was no blinding of authorship.

Assessment of studies

The assessment of quality considered the generation of the randomisation sequence (with a random-number table or computer-generated sequence judged as adequate), concealment of allocation (with central telephone randomisation or sealed opaque envelopes judged as adequate), blinding (including participants, caregivers, and outcome assessors), and completeness of follow up (with <20% loss to follow up for primary outcomes judged as adequate). This was conducted by two authors independently (JD and RG).

Data synthesis

We carried out statistical analysis using Review Manager.20 We used fixed-effect inverse variance meta-analysis for combining data where trials were examining the same intervention, and where the populations and methods of the trials were judged to be sufficiently similar. If substantial heterogeneity was identified in a fixed-effect meta-analysis (as indicated by an I2 statistic of >50%), this was noted, the analysis was repeated using a random-effects model, and the reasons for the heterogeneity were explored. For dichotomous data, risk ratios (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated; for continuous data, weighted mean differences (WMDs) and 95% CIs were calculated. Primary analyses were based on intention-to-treat principles.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Our search strategy identified 254 abstracts or reports, of which 36 full-text manuscripts or reports were reviewed. Ten published randomised trials were identified:21–30 one study was presented only in abstract form,31 and nine were ongoing randomised trials for consideration.32–40 Of the ten published randomised trials, nine were included in the analysis (Figure 1).

image

Figure 1.  Flow chart of study selection.

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Description of the studies included

Nine randomised controlled trials were included,21,22,24–30 involving 743 women who were overweight or obese during pregnancy. Seven trials compared a dietary intervention with standard antenatal care (involving no intervention),21,24–26,28–30 whereas two trials evaluated the effect of a lifestyle intervention focussing on aerobic and/or resistance exercise.22,27 The trials by Polley et al.,25 Brankston et al.22 and Asbee et al.21 recruited women of all BMI categories, with variable reporting of outcomes for women considered to be overweight or obese. The trials by Rae et al.,26 Magee et al.24 and Brankston et al.22 recruited women with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

Methodological quality

The generation of the randomisation sequence using a random-number table was specifically stated for five trials,21,22,27–29 but was unclear in four.24–26,30 Allocation concealment was adequate, using sealed opaque sequentially numbered envelopes in five trials,21,22,26–28 but was unclear in four.23–25,29,30 Blinding of participants and caregivers was achieved in only one of the trials,26 being unclear in the remainder.21–25,27–30 Losses to follow up were >20% of the original randomised cohort for the trials by Guelinckx et al.,30 Wolff et al.,29 and Santos et al.27 For further details of the characteristics of the studies included see Table 1, and for risk of bias in the studies see Figure 2.

Table 1.   Characteristics of the studies included
AuthorSettingPopulationInterventionOutcomesQuality
Asbee et al.21USA; October 2005–April 2007Inclusion: 16–26 weeks of gestation; 18- to 49-years old; singleton; all BMI categories Exclusion: multiple pregnancy; pre-existing diabetes, hypertension, or thyroid disease; pregnancy ending in preterm birth at <37 weeks of gestation; less than four antenatal visit Sample size: 144 randomised; 100 analysed; 40 overweight or obeseWomen were randomised to: (1) routine antenatal care or (2) intervention (dietician visit and feedback on weight gain)Adherence to IOM weight gain recommendationsRandomisation: computer-generated sequence Allocation concealment: sealed opaque envelopes Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: 31% total; unable to assess for women who were overweight or obese
Guelinckx et al.30Belgium; March 2006–January 2008Inclusion: 15 weeks of gestation; BMI > 29 Exclusion: multiple pregnancy; pre-existing diabetes; renal disease; pregnancy ending in preterm birth at <37 weeks of gestation Sample size: 130 randomised; 85 analysedWomen were randomised to: (1) routine antenatal care or (2) intervention (three group sessions with dietician and written information)Gestational weight gainRandomisation: not stated Allocation concealment: not stated Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: 35% of the randomised women were excluded after randomisation
Magee et al.24USAInclusion: obese women with gestational diabetes mellitus Sample size: 12Women were randomised to: (1) standard diabetic diet or (2) calorie-restricted diet for 1 weekMetabolic measures of glucose homeostasis; no clinical outcomes reportedRandomisation: unclear, ‘women were randomized’ Allocation concealment: not stated Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: unable to assess
Polley et al.25USAInclusion: women at <20 weeks of gestation; all BMI categories Exclusion: age <18 years; drug abuse; previous pregnancy complication; multiple pregnancy Sample size: 110 women, of whom 49 were overweightWomen were randomised to: (1) standard antenatal care or (2) intensive intervention (access to research dietician or psychologist at each antenatal visit)Gestational weight gain; pre-eclampsia; hypertension; gestational diabetes; preterm birth; Caesarean section; infant birthweightRandomisation: unclear, ‘women were randomly assigned’ Allocation concealment: not stated Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: unable to assess
Rae et al.26Australia; February 1992–June 1995Inclusion: women with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus; <36 weeks of gestation; BMI > 110% ideal Sample size: 125 women randomisedWomen were randomised to: (1) standard diabetic diet or (2) calorie-restricted diet (70% standard)Frequency of insulin useRandomisation: unclear, ‘random draw of opaque envelopes’ Allocation concealment: opaque envelopes Blinding: women and caregivers blinded Losses to follow up: 6%
Thornton et al.28USA; June 1998–May 2005Inclusion: singleton pregnancy; 12–28 weeks of gestation; BMI ≥ 30 Exclusion: pre-existing diabetes, hypertension, or chronic renal disease Sample size: 257 women randomised; 232 analysedWomen were randomised to: (1) standard antenatal care or (2) monitored group (visit to dietician and detailed diet protocol)Mean gestational weight gain; pre-eclampsia; hypertension; gestational diabetes; preterm birth; Caesarean section; infant birthweightRandomisation: random number table Allocation concealment: opaque envelopes Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: 10%
Wolff et al.29DenmarkInclusion: ‘early pregnancy’; BMI ≥ 30; non-diabetic; white Exclusion: smoking; age <18 or >45 years; multiple pregnancy; medical complications Sample size: 73 women randomised; 23 post-randomisation exclusions/loss; 50 women analysedWomen were randomised to: (1) standard antenatal care or (2) intensive intervention (ten 1-hour visits with dietician at each antenatal visit)Mean gestational weight gain; pre-eclampsia; hypertension; gestational diabetes; Caesarean section; infant birthweightRandomisation: computer-generated random number table Allocation concealment: not stated Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: 32%
Brankston et al.22CanadaInclusion: maternal age 20–40 years; 26–32 weeks of gestation; BMI < 40; diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus; not involved in a regular exercise programme Sample size: 38 women randomised; 32 analysedWomen were randomised to: (1) standard diabetic diet or (2) diet plus circuit-type resistance training three times per weekRequirements for insulin; health outcomes not reported by BMI categoryRandomisation: random number table Allocation concealment: opaque envelopes Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: 15%
Santos et al.27Brazil; March 2000–March 2002Inclusion: age >20 years; <20 weeks of gestation; BMI 26–31 Exclusion: hypertension; diabetes; preterm labour; multiple pregnancy; thyroid disease Sample size: 92 women randomised; 72 analysedWomen were randomised to (1) standard care or (2) 1 hour, three times per week, aerobic and resistance exerciseCardiorespiratory markers of exercise toleranceRandomisation: random number table Allocation concealment: opaque envelopes Blinding: not stated Losses to follow up: 22%
image

Figure 2.  Study quality and assessment of risk of bias.

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Excluded studies

The study by Hui et al.23 was excluded, as women of all BMI categories were recruited, with no specific reporting of outcomes for women who were overweight or obese. One report of a randomised trial was identified in abstract form only, and did not contain sufficient information to allow an assessment of the study quality.31

Ongoing studies

Nine ongoing randomised trials were identified, evaluating antenatal dietary and lifestyle interventions in obese and overweight women.32,33,35–40 A further ongoing study was identified in which a dietary intervention was provided to women of all BMI categories, including women who are overweight or obese.34 Further details are provided in Table 2.

Table 2.   Characteristics of ongoing studies
InvestigatorPopulationInterventionOutcomesContact
Adamo33 ISRCTN75323409Setting: Ottawa, ON, Canada Inclusion: BMI > 25; singleton pregnancy Exclusion: smoker; any significant medical or obstetric condition impacting on weight or exercise capacity; multiple pregnancy Sample size: 60Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (detailed information including weight gain, dietetic counselling, exercise programme)Gestational weight gain; infant birthweightDr Kristi Adamo  kadamo@cheo.on.ca
Althuzien et al.34 ISRCTN85313484Setting: The Netherlands Inclusion: nulliparous women; <14 weeks of gestation; all BMI categories Exclusion: multiparous women Sample size: 275Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (five counselling sessions)BMI and skinfold thickness postpartumEllen Althuizen  e.althuizen@vumc.nl
Dodd35 ACTRN12607000161426Setting: Adelaide, SA, Australia. Inclusion: BMI ≥ 25, with stratification for BMI category; singleton pregnancy; 10–20 weeks of gestation Exclusion: pre-existing diabetes; multiple pregnancy Sample size: 2574Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (written information and series of inputs from research assistants and research dieticians)Large-for-gestational-age infantDr Jodie Dodd  jodie.dodd@adelaide.edu.au
Foxcroft and Callaway36 ACTRN12606000271505Setting: Brisbane, Qld, Australia Inclusion: BMI ≥ 30; singleton pregnancy; <12 weeks of gestation Exclusion: serious medical complication preventing exercise; multiple pregnancy Sample size: 50Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (exercise programme of 30 minutes, five times per week)Increased physical activityAssociate Leonie Callaway  lcallaway@somc.uq.edu.au  Trial recruitment is complete
Oostdam et al.40 NTR1139Setting: Amsterdam, The Netherlands Inclusion: BMI ≥ 30; previous macrosomic infant, previous gestational diabetes, or relative with type-II diabetes; 14–20 weeks of gestation Exclusion: pre-existing diabetes; hypertension; alcohol or drug abuse; serious medical complication preventing exercise Sample size: 160Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (exercise programme of 60 minutes, two times per week)Fasting maternal plasma glucose and insulin resistance; infant birthweightNicolette Oostdam  n.oostdam@vumc.nl
Parat37 NCT00804765Setting: Paris, France Inclusion: BMI ≥ 30; singleton pregnancy; <21 weeks of gestation Exclusion: high-risk pregnancy; multiple pregnancy; previous obesity surgery Sample size: not statedWomen are randomised to: (1) standard care (including at least one dietary consultation) or (2) intervention group (four educational sessions and two dietician consultations)Infant weight gain (at 30 months of age)Dr Sophie Parat  sophie.parat@nck.aphp.fr
Quinlivan38 PTR543Setting: Melbourne, Vic., Australia Inclusion: BMI ≥ 25; <20 weeks of gestation Exclusion: not stated Sample size: 160Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) multidisciplinary antenatal careIncidence of gestational diabetesProf. Julie Quinlivan  juliequinlivan@nd.edu.au  Trial recruitment is complete
Smith32 NCT00950235Setting: OR, USA Inclusion: BMI ≥ 30; 12–16 weeks of gestation Exclusion: bariatric surgery; renal disease; multiple pregnancy; diabetes; hyperemesis requiring hospitalisation Sample size: not statedWomen are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (behavioural weight management)Incidence of large-for-gestational-age infantSabina Smith  sabina.smith@kpchr.org
Vinter39 NCT00530439Setting: Odense, Denmark Inclusion: BMI ≥ 30; singleton pregnancy Exclusion: chronic disease; previous preterm birth; alcohol or drug abuse Sample size: 360Women are randomised to: (1) standard care or (2) intervention group (dietician counselling and physical training)Caesarean sectionDr Christine Vinter  c.vinter@dadlnet.dk

Antenatal dietary intervention for women who are overweight or obese

Seven trials compared a dietary intervention with standard antenatal care (involving no intervention).21,24–26,28–30 For the primary outcome, large-for-gestational-age infants, only three trials reported outcome data, with no statistically significant differences identified between women who received an antenatal intervention and those who did not (three studies; 366 women; RR 2.02; 95% CI 0.84, 4.86) (Figure 3; Table 3). Women who received an antenatal intervention gained significantly less weight during pregnancy (four studies; 416 women; WMD −5.37 kg; 95% CI −6.61, −4.13; fixed-effects model). The I2 statistic indicated a high degree of heterogeneity (93%), and when a random-effects model was subsequently used the result no longer remained statistically significant (four studies; 416 women; WMD −3.10 kg; 95% CI −8.32, 2.13; random-effects model) (Figure 4). There were no other statistically significant differences identified for the other reported secondary outcomes: preterm birth at <37 weeks of gestation, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, induction of labour, Caesarean section, postpartum haemorrhage, postpartum infection, mean infant birthweight, birthweight of <2500 g, birthweight of >4500 g, or infant Apgar score of <7 at 5 minutes of age.

image

Figure 3.  Forest plot: large-for-gestational-age infant.

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Table 3.   Outcomes for women provided an antenatal dietary intervention
OutcomeStudiesParticipantsEffect estimate95% CI
  1. Risk ratios are quoted, except *weight mean difference.

  2. **Analysis using random-effects model because of the high degree of statistical heterogeneity (I2 > 50%).

Primary
Large-for-gestational-age infant33662.020.84, 4.86
Secondary maternal
Mean gestational weight gain (kg)*,**4416−3.10−8.32, 2.13
Preterm birth at <37 weeks22810.580.19, 1.70
Pre-eclampsia55400.800.49, 1.31
Hypertension**44160.700.30, 1.61
Gestational diabetes33310.570.30, 1.08
Induction of labour34410.960.75, 1.24
Caesarean section55401.090.93, 1.28
Postpartum haemorrhage12320.600.15, 2.45
Postpartum infection12320.830.26, 2.65
Secondary infant
Mean birthweight (g)*3367−24.99−135.37, 85.39
Birthweight >4500 g149Not estimableNot estimable
Birthweight <2500 g1490.410.04, 4.20
Apgar <7 at 5 minutes of age12323.000.12, 72.89
image

Figure 4.  Forest plot: mean gestational weight gain.

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Antenatal lifestyle (exercise) intervention for women who are overweight or obese

Two trials evaluated the effect of a lifestyle intervention focussing on aerobic and/or resistance exercise.22,27 The trial by Brankston et al.22 stated a reduction in insulin use in 20 women who were overweight or obese, although no figures were reported; no other maternal or infant clinical outcomes were reported. The trial by Santos et al.27 reported no maternal or infant health outcomes, focussing instead on cardiorespiratory markers of exercise tolerance.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The results of our systematic review indicate that for women who are overweight or obese, the provision of antenatal dietary intervention is of uncertain benefit in limiting weight gain during pregnancy, as reported in four studies to date. We identified significant heterogeneity across the studies related primarily to the intensity of the intervention provided, ranging from a single dietetic visit28 to additional dietetic sessions at each antenatal visit.25,29 However, the direction and magnitude of treatment effect was similar for both the Thornton et al.28 and Wolff et al.29 trials, despite the differences in intervention intensities. This uncertainty of both the effect of an antenatal intervention and its optimal intensity significantly limits the ability to generate reliable recommendations relating to care in clinical practice.

The effect of an antenatal dietary intervention on other important maternal health outcomes, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, induction of labour, and Caesarean section is lacking, with the combined available sample size in our meta-analysis varying from 49 to 540 participants. Despite the total number of women in the studies identified for this systematic review being 743, there is clear inconsistency in outcome reporting, particularly related to maternal and infant health outcomes, with these only being reported in a small proportion of trials to date. Furthermore, outcomes were not reported separately for women who were overweight and for those who were obese.

Overall, the methodological quality of the included trials was poor to fair, with unclear methods of generating randomisation sequences in four trials,24–26,30 unclear allocation concealment in four trials,23–25,29,30 and losses to follow up of more than 20% of the original randomised cohort for three trials.27,29,30 Given the nature of the intervention, blinding of participants and caregivers is difficult, and was only claimed to have been achieved in one trial.26 Of greater relevance is the issue of blinding the outcome assessors, which was unclear in all of the included trials, thereby increasing the possibility of detection bias in the reported outcomes.

Our review identified considerable variation in the nature of the intervention provided, ranging from single sessions with a dietician up to additional dietetic counselling sessions associated with each antenatal visit. Although the provision of a more intensive dietetic counselling programme has been associated with greater weight loss in non-pregnant individuals,41 the ability to provide this degree of intervention at a broader antenatal population level remains questionable.

Current guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists42 recommend that women be counselled prior to conception, and be encouraged to adopt lifestyle changes to minimise their risk of developing complications during pregnancy related to being overweight or obese. For many women, however, this is not achieved, and the focus is therefore on minimising the risk of complications during pregnancy. The recently updated and published guidelines from the Institute of Medicine (IOM)43 differ little from the previously published recommendations,44 with the exception that they reflect World Health Organisation BMI categories,45 and provide a gestational weight gain range for women who are obese. Hence, the recommendation for women who are overweight in pregnancy is to gain between 7.0 and 11.5 kg, and for women who are obese to gain between 5.0 and 9.0 kg.43 Although the current IOM guidelines recognise that ‘interventions will be needed to assist women, particularly those who are overweight or obese at the time of conception’43 to meet these recommendations, as highlighted by our systematic review there is little high-quality information available from randomised trials to inform practitioners of the effect of limiting weight gain in terms of important maternal and infant health measures.

Of particular relevance is the association between maternal obesity, infant birthweight and an individual’s subsequent risk of obesity in later life. The occurrence of childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions, with estimates indicating that 16% of children aged 6–11 years are overweight, with a further 6% being obese.15 Of greater concern is the incidence of younger children who are overweight or obese, with over 20% of 2- to 3-year-old Australian children considered to be overweight or obese,17 thereby increasing the overall lifetime exposure of an individual to the risk of adverse health consequences. A variety of factors have been identified as increasing an individual’s risk of increased adiposity and obesity in childhood, including infant birthweight (both high and low), maternal and paternal obesity, increased gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes, breastfeeding, rapid early infant weight gain, and socio-economic status.11–14,46–50 Of these, infant birthweight and high maternal BMI have both been consistently identified as being significant and independent of other factors.

Experimental manipulation of maternal diet during pregnancy in animal studies indicates a significant alteration of offspring body composition and adiposity, potentially through the modification of appetite and energy expenditure.51,52 The effect in humans is less clear, although small cohort studies suggest that when compared with women of normal BMI, infants born to overweight or obese women have an increased percentage of body fat and fat mass, despite minimal differences in infant birthweight.11

Although it is possible that the antecedents of obesity may develop in utero, the precise contribution of the prenatal environment, maternal overnutrition, and genetic factors remains to be determined. It is, however, quite plausible that the optimal time to intervene in the prevention of obesity, with implications for the subsequent development of childhood and adulthood obesity, may be in the antenatal period when an individual’s plasticity is at its greatest. It is therefore essential that the effects of antenatal dietary and/or lifestyle modification for women who are overweight or obese be appropriately evaluated in high-quality randomised trials, with sufficient statistical power and reporting of important maternal and infant health outcomes. The ongoing research studies identified to date will contribute valuable information provided that the relevant clinical outcomes are reported. Of greater importance is the ongoing follow up of infant and childhood participants in any such established cohorts, if the in utero contributions to childhood obesity are to be elucidated.

Contribution to authorship

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

All authors were involved in the development of the study design. JD and RG were involved in the assessment of studies for inclusion, quality assessment, and data extraction. JD drafted the original manuscript; all authors were involved in the interpretation of results, and reviewed the manuscript for content and approved the final version for publication.

Details of ethics approval

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

This article is a systematic review of published randomised trials, and ethics approval was not required.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

JMD acknowledges a grant from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Neil Hamilton Fairley Overseas Clinical Fellowship (ID 399224).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Disclosure of interests
  8. Contribution to authorship
  9. Details of ethics approval
  10. Funding
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References
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