We need to talk about maternal obesity.

This week is national fertility awareness week. What a great cause; an issue that is hard to speak about but affects so many. In the UK, 1 in 6 couples struggle to conceive. That’s one in six families who have to deal with the pain that fertility issues bring. And fertility issues can affect anyone. So are we protecting ourselves well enough against infertility?

It is no secret that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and heading rapidly into a crisis. In 1993, 16.4% of women were overweight or obese; this has rocketed to 26.8% in 2014. And what does the future hold? Public Health England estimates a whopping 50% of women will be obese by 2050. Obesity influences not only the chance of conception but also the response to fertility treatment. It increases the chance of miscarriage and pregnancy complications such as Gestational Diabetes and need for a caesarian section. It can affect the long-term health of mother and baby. I can’t help feeling that with a predicted rise in obesity, a reduction in fertility is a ticking time bomb. So I am going to argue that no, we are not doing enough.

maternal-obesity-photo

So what can we all do in the face of the obesity crisis to help fertility?

  1. Offer support to all people who struggle with their weight. The days of announcing ‘I’m fattest’ or negatively commenting on other people weight should be long behind us. People who struggle with their weight will be more likely to seek support and be successful in their weight loss attempts if they do not feel stigmatised.
  2. With predicted rise in obesity rates, we must be encouraging the younger generation to talk about their weight. They are the generation that we going to be most affected. We must help them acknowledge the effect they could be having on their long-term health, including fertility.

 

And if you struggle with your own weight, what can you do?

  1. Know that if you are not alone. Where both fertility and weight issues might feel stigmatised, talking to someone in confidence can help. Psychological support has been recommended to help aid weight loss in pregnant women, so find out what local support is available or speak to your GP.
  2. Some people who want to lose weight think that dramatic weight loss is the only way forward, and yearn to reach a healthy weight. While a great long-term goal, moderate weight loss of 5-10% can be sufficient to restore fertility and improve metabolic markers. Find a local dietitian who can help you achieve your weight loss goals.
  3. Find online forums and support groups such as the NCT, where you can meet other people with similar issues and view points. Group camaraderie can really help with any weight loss attempts.
  4. Moderate exercise can help your fertility and weight loss attempts. Not only does exercise help burn calories, but it can also boost your mood and give you time outside the house and away from temptation of unhealthy eating. It can be a really helpful way to change your eating habits. Look for local gym offers, fitness classes or ask your GP for a referral.

 

Please share your thoughts below. This is only the beginning of what I hope will be a much larger discussion for many years to come. If there is anything you have read that you would like to discuss with me, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

References:

Public Health England (2014). Adult Obesity. Available at: http://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/adult_obesity

Balen, A.H. and Anderson, R.A. (2009). Impact of Obesity on female reproductive health: British Fertility Society, Policy and Practice Guidelines. Human Fertility: 195 – 206.

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