While we’re aware that obesity in developed countries is approaching epidemic levels, I’m not certain whether the strategy in the Healthy Moms study is the correct approach.

The federal government is paying researchers $2.2 million dollars over a 4-year period in an attempt to prevent obese pregnant women from gaining any weight during the course of their pregnancy.  If the participants gain weight, it is to be limited to 3 percent of their baseline weight.  While this appears to be a noble endeavor, the goal of zero weight gain during pregnancy is unrealistic. The average pregnancy requires 80,000 additional calories over pre-pregnancy requirement which amounts to approximately 300 additional calories per day. The study recommends an intake of 100 to 300. If we take the lower recommendation of 100 additional calories per day, that would amount to an 8 pound weight gain during pregnancy because 3500 calories equals one pound. The Institute of Medicine’s recommendation is a total weight gain of eleven pounds for obese pregnant moms. This appears to be more practical.

The greater concern is what effect will calorie restrictions have on the fetus and newborn? The additional 300 calories is needed for proper fetal development and growth. Will there be risks of fetal growth restriction (the baby not growing properly)? Nutritional deficits based upon increased fetal demands and less calories? The majority of pregnant women complain of having an increased appetite when taking prenatal vitamins which is necessary for proper fetal development. How will that issue be addressed?

We are well aware of the adverse consequences that obesity can have on pregnancy outcomes. However, zero prenatal weight gain is pushing the envelope.  What long-term neurological or developmental effects will this diet have on babies? Let’s keep a close eye on the developments of this study as they unfold.