Healthy lifestyle could halve the risk of gestational diabetes

Wed, 01 Oct 2014
Research from Harvard University, Boston has found that the risk of gestational diabetes could be halved if a healthy lifestyle is followed prior to pregnancy.

The study involved an analysis of data from the Nurses' Health Study recorded between 1989 and 2001. The Nurses' Health Study is a collection of data from nurses in the United States that has been running since 1976. The study included 20,136 births from 14,437 nurses that took part in the study. Nurses were aged between 24 and 44 years old at the study of the study period and 70% were aged 40 or above by the end of the study period.

Health and lifestyle figures, such as smoking status and weight, were collected twice each year, a food frequency questionnaire was filled in once every four years and questionnaires on physical activity were completed in 1989, 1991 and 1997.

The results showed that women that ate a relatively healthy diet, exercised more than 2 and a half hours a week and did not smoke, had a 41% lower risk of developing gestational diabetes. When women met these three healthy lifestyle factors and had a healthy weight going into pregnancy, the reduction in risk of gestational diabetes was by more than a half, 52%.

The study showed obesity to be the largest of the risk factors for gestational diabetes, with women that had a BMI of over 33 having a 4 times (400%) higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. The study also showed how few nurses were managing to achieve all four of the low risk factors with only 1 in 6 nurses managing to eat a diet defined as healthy, exercise for 150 minutes or more per week, not smoke and be of a healthy weight.

In the study, a healthy diet was defined as one that was rich in cereal grains and polyunsaturated fat and low in red and processed meats, sugary drinks and salt. Arguably, this may not be the healthiest definition of a diet as recent research has shown that diets, with more calories coming from saturated fat (not including processed foods) in place of some of the starchy carbohydrates, tend to be healthier.

Gestational diabetes occurs in up to 1 in 20 pregnancies and raises the risk of health complications, notably the risk of having a large baby weighing over 4kg (10 lbs). Research also shows that babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes tend to have a higher risk of becoming obese than those born to mothers without the condition. Furthermore, having gestational diabetes also significantly increases the risk for the mother of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

What we can learn from the research is that if you wish to become pregnant, it is strongly advisable to lead a healthy life well before you plan to become pregnant to prevent gestational diabetes occurring as best as you can. If you currently do not have a healthy diet, do not take sufficient exercise or are currently a smoker, now is the time to turn things around.
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