Study finds false perceptions of body weight put new mums in diabetes danger zone

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An alarming number of new mums who develop increased blood sugar levels during pregnancy are placing themselves at heightened risk of long-term diabetes because of false perceptions of their own weight and health risk.

Research by University of Western Sydney School of Medicine and Blacktown Hospital researchers found that the majority of women with gestational diabetes underestimate their weight category and fail to take action to prevent type 2 diabetes. 

Increased blood glucose during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes, affects women in around five per cent of pregnancies.1 While blood glucose often returns to normal after childbirth, failure to reduce excess weight increases the mother's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers also believe gestational diabetes and excess weight gain during pregnancy increase the child's risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in later life.2-4

The study, presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Diabetes Society & Australian Diabetes Educators Association, found that women with an accurate understanding of their weight were almost twice as likely to attempt weight loss than women with a false perception of their weight.

"Self-perception is a major barrier to tackling weight issues and diabetes risk. It really is a case of 'I see what I want; not what I should' for many new mums," says Allison Sigmund, Adjunct Fellow in the UWS School of Medicine. 

Researchers studied 98 women with gestational diabetes who had given birth in the last three months. One-in-three were overweight and almost half were classified as obese.
"The results are concerning," says Ms Sigmund who is a dietician and diabetes researcher.

"Almost half of the women who were overweight considered themselves to be of a 'healthy weight', while more than half of the obese women described themselves as 'healthy weight' or 'overweight'.
"We also found that more than 70 per cent of women at 'high risk' of diabetes considered their diabetes risk to be 'moderate' or 'none/slight'."

"A false perception of weight equals less effort to lose weight, which increases the likelihood of lifelong type 2 diabetes. We mustn't sugar-coat the message. Too many women ignore weight issues during and after birth and are putting themselves at risk," says Ms Sigmund.

Diabetes experts attending the Scientific Congress also warn that excess weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk of gestational diabetes and that this can influence the child's risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in later life.2-4

Ms Sigmund stressed the importance of new mothers with gestational diabetes consulting a credentialled diabetes educator to help them reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other weight-related complications.

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010). Diabetes in pregnancy: its impact on Australian women and their babies, page 3.
2 Bammann K, Peplies J, De Henauw S, et al. Early life course risk factors for childhood obesity: The IDEFICS case-control study. PLOS One 2014; 9: 1–7.
3 Eriksson JG. Epidemiology, genes and the environment: lessons learned from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study. J Intern Med 2007; 261: 418–25.
4 Lawlor DA, Lichtenstein P, Langstrom N. Association of maternal diabetes mellitus in pregnancy with offspring adiposity into early adulthood: sibling study in a prospective cohort of 280 866 men from 248 293 families. Circulation 2011; 123: 258–65.
5 Crozier SR, Inskip, HM, Godfrey KM, et al. Weight gain in pregnancy and childhood body composition: findings from the Southampton Women's Survey. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91: 1745–51.


29 August 2014

Photo: Sally Tsoutas

Media contact: Paul Grocott, Senior Media Officer

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