Obesity and pregnancy in U.S.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States makes obesity a leading public health problem. The United States has the highest rates of obesity in the developed world. Obesity is a public health and policy problem because of its prevalence, costs and burdens. It influences all sides of people’s lives. This time researchers focused their attention on obese pregnant women.

Obese pregnant women undergo more medical tests, see a doctor more often and spend about a day longer in the hospital after delivery than lighter women, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Previous research showed that obese women were more likely to develop complications during pregnancy, though the findings didn't examine whether they received more health care services. The growing rates of obesity in the U.S., where nearly two of every three citizens are carrying extra pounds, are affecting more pregnancies.

Heavier women received significantly more prenatal tests and doctor visits, ultrasound imaging and prescription medications than those who weren't overweight. They also spent an average of almost one more day in the hospital, primarily because of more Caesarean sections, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, the researchers found.

"Of the 4 million births each year in the United States, approximately 1 million involve obese women,'' said the researchers, led by Susan Chu of the CDC's reproductive health division in Atlanta. "Thus, even a small increase in the cost of health care associated with obesity will have substantial economic implications.''

Government researchers analyzed data from patients in the Kaiser Permanente Northwest health maintenance organization, which provides medical care to nearly half a million people in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington. The study included 13,442 women who gave birth between 2000 and 2004 and appears in the April 3 New England Journal of Medicine.