Are overweight women at increased risk of obesity following pregnancy?

H. E. Harris*, G. T.H. Ellison, L. M. Richter, T. De Wet, J. Levin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    Longitudinal studies suggest that women who already have a high BMI are at greater risk of maternal obesity than their lighter counterparts. The aim of the present study was to investigate this possibility by examining the relationship between reproductive history and maternal BMI in a community of 627 women from South Africa with a high prevalence of obesity. Standardized questionnaires were used to obtain detailed sociodemographic and behavioural information, while maternal weight and height were both measured at the time of the interview. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) showed that maternal age (r2 0.015, P = 0.001), smoking status (r2 0.012, P = 0.036), and social support (r2 0.011, P = 0.006) were all independently associated with maternal BMI. If overweight women were at increased risk of maternal obesity, then the positive relationship between reproductive history and maternal BMI should be enhanced in this relatively obese community, yet the ANCOVA models showed no independent association between gravidity and maternal BMI after controlling for the effects of confounding factors. Although previous longitudinal studies have found a positive association between prepregnant weight and long-term weight gain, this relationship might arise because overweight women gain more weight over a fixed period of time than normal weight women, and therefore they may appear to be at greater risk of pregnancy-related weight gains. Overweight women are at greater risk of weight gain generally, but there is little unequivocal evidence to suggest that they are at any increased risk of maternal obesity, when compared with women of lower BMI.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)489-494
    Number of pages6
    JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 1998

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    The authors would like to thank the ‘Birth to Ten’ research assistants and study participants who made this project possible. ‘Birth to Ten’ is a multi-disciplinary longitudinal study which receives financial and logistic support from: the Urbanisation and Health Program of the Medical Research Council; the Anglo-American and DeBeers Chairman’s Educational Trust; the Centre for Science Development of the Human Sciences Research Council; the University of the Witwatersrand; the Institute for Behavioural Sciences at the University of South Africa and numerous corporate donors. Helen Harris was supported by the Dev R Fund of the University of Greenwich, and George Ellison was supported by a Scientific Exchange grant from the Royal Society and a research grant from the Simon Population Trust. Thanks also go to Noel Cameron and Peggy Gordon-Larsen for their contributions to the manuscript.


    • Maternal obesity
    • Pregnancy
    • Weight gain


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