Birth defects, premature birth and other severe health problems in tomorrow's babies are being linked to the soaring rates of obesity among women of childbearing age, according to a new report released by the March of Dimes Task Force on Nutrition and Optimal Human Development in the US.
"Weight before pregnancy matters much more than people realise, even health professionals," said Richard J. Deckelbaum, Professor of Nutrition at Columbia University, New York, and chairman of the March of Dimes Task Force, speaking at a press conference.
"For the mothers, there are serious complications such as gestational diabetes, dangerously high blood pressure, and hospitalisation; and for the babies, prematurity, serious birth defects and other severe problems. And when these babies grow up, they are more likely to suffer from obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health problems. Obesity is particularly dangerous for women of childbearing age because it creates a life cycle of serious problems that can be passed from generation to generation."
More than 450,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the US, and the rate of premature birth has increased 23 per cent since the early 1980s. Dr Deckelbaum cited two recent articles on the serious hazards and lifelong consequences of prematurity that appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr Deckelbaum urged women to prepare for their future children by eating "family-friendly" or "baby-friendly" portion sizes to reduce caloric intake, limiting second helpings, and getting more physical exercise.
The "Nutrition Today Matters Tomorrow" report also advises new approaches to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, unhealthy nutrition, exposure to unsafe food and water, and poor growth and development among children in the United States and worldwide.
"This report is a blueprint of practical answers for a healthier tomorrow for people in the United States and around the world," said Dr Deckelbaum. "We hope it will inspire health providers, community leaders and policy makers at all levels."
The March of Dimes Task Force on Nutrition and Optimal Human Development, created in 1999, consists of 29 nutrition scientists, administrators, and policy makers from organisations such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Paediatrics, the World Health Organisation and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.