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Recommendations to focus on health of mothers before conception could help in fight to reduce childhood obesity

A paper published in the Lancet today has provided recommendations for how to best monitor, intervene and improve preconception health in England leading to better pregnancy outcomes, future maternal and child health, and prevention of long-term medical conditions.

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Preconception health is the health of women and men before pregnancy occurs. This stage of the life course is a growing focus of research as there is strong evidence to suggest that the health of the parents before conception can influence not only pregnancy outcomes but also future maternal and child health and development of long-term conditions such as obesity.

The government aims to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and recommendations from this report highlight how focusing on preconception health can contribute to this target. A woman who is healthy at the time of conception is more likely to have a successful pregnancy and a healthy child (i.e. normal range BMI).

The report was produced by the Preconception Partnership, a consortium of leading academics and groups representing different aspects of preconception health in women and their partners. Professor Lucilla Poston, Head of the School of Life Course Sciences at King’s, a member of the partnership highlights that obesity during the time of conception and beyond is incredibly important.

The report highlights that just over 50% of women of reproductive age, irrespective of pregnancy planning, were overweight or obese, and more than 70% were eating fewer than five portions of fruit or vegetables per day.

The focus on obesity is important. Children are more likely to become obese if their mother was obese In pregnancy, and we have evidence to suggest this is because maternal obesity permanently affects fetal development.– Professor Lucilla Poston, Head of the School of Life Course Sciences

The report recommends intervention strategies at the public health level such as mandatory food fortification (such as adding folic acid to flour), fiscal measures ( taxation of sugary foods as well as drinks), reformulation of foods as well as identifying and education those planning a pregnancy.

Professor Poston and her team have developed a complex intervention with the aim of improving pregnancy outcome and, potentially, reducing the risk of obesity in the child.

Our research focuses on obese women in pregnancy and we have been studying children of mothers who are obese from early in pregnancy all the way through to childhood– Professor Poston

Professor Poston’s work on preconception health forms one area of research in a newly established institute ‘King’s Health Partners Women & Children’s Health’ which is holding a launch symposium on Monday 10 June.

Read the full paper here