21 May 2018: Pregnancy is not a trigger for significant weight gain in Australian women, a new study by University of Canberra researchers has found.
Although longitudinal studies show that women gain weight in young adulthood, and previous research has concluded that there is a link between having children and long-term weight gain, a University of Canberra-led study has found no connection.
The findings, published in the clinical Obesity journal, contradict the results of previous studies that point to pregnancy as a trigger for long-term weight gain in women.
However, the study found that not having a paid job and depression were influencing factors leading to higher weight gain in the long term while a university education and very high levels of physical activity were protective.
University of Canberra Professor of Midwifery and lead author, Deborah Davis, said the research, which sampled more than 8,000 young women in Australia over a 16-year period, showed that there are many interacting factors that might cause weight gain other than pregnancy.
“There is a long-held perception that having babies contributes to women’s weight gain leading to overweight and obesity. We now have found that this is not the case.”
While the direction of the link between depression and weight gain is unclear – whether depression leads to weight gain or weight gain leads to depression – women and health care providers should be aware of the risks.
“Women who had five or more babies in the 16-year study period were significantly heavier than all other women but once other factors were taken into consideration (such as socioeconomic status and education) this difference was not statistically significant,” Professor Davis said.
The research also found that a university education and high levels of physical activity could be a protective factor against long-term weight gain.
“The levels of physical activity required to protect against becoming overweight and obese in the long term are more than those recommended currently in Australia.”
Professor Davis was recently appointed Chair of the International Confederation of Midwives Research Standing Committee and will soon be heading to The Hague to meet with the Confederation in this capacity.
The survey data came from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (also known as Women's Health Australia) which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.