Pregnancy is Not a Time to Eat for Two

Wednesday, 16th December 2015

In a report aiming to put the ‘eating for two’ myth to rest, the chief medical officer has warned that obesity is dangerous to both women’s health and their babies’ health.

Professor Sally Davies studies the entire spectrum of women’s health from menopause and cancer survival to female genital mutilation, the effects of violence and eating disorders. However, she has said that the one fundamental major concern across the lifespan is obesity. According to Professor Davies, it will shorten women’s lives and increase the risk of stillbirth or children growing up with health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

In her annual report, Davies said that obesity in women can affect the outcome of pregnancy and the health of their future children. She admitted that this message is difficult to convey as it risks burdening women with responsibility and guilt, but she believes that it can also encourage them to take positive steps such as taking more exercise and eating healthier foods.

50% of all women aged between 25 and 34 are obese or overweight, as are 36% of those aged 16 to 24. When women in the former age group are planning to become parents, they might mention it when visiting their GP. Davies says this is an important time to begin talking about their weight as well as their physical and mental health, however too often the opportunity is missed.

Davies says that pregnancy is a time to say fit rather than eat more. She urges women trying to get pregnant to increase their fruit and vegetable intake, avoid overeating, stay active, quit smoking and cease alcohol consumption.

Obesity, however, is more than a matter of individual responsibility. In her report, Davies said that obesity should be included in the government’s national risk planning and thought of as a “national priority”. She said that action across the whole of society is necessary to prevent obesity and its associated issues from decreasing women’s lifespans and affecting the quality of their lives.

Davies did not mention the notion of the sugar tax supported by Jamie Oliver and several medical and health organisations, however the report did note that interventions to change ‘choice architecture’ e.g. product placement, sizing and labelling in retails outlets is influential on the behaviour of shoppers.

The report suggests that young women suffering from eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia don’t always get the treatment they require. It also displays Davies’s disappointment that the NHS is not adequately providing these women with the psychological therapies shown to produce improvements.

Davies suggests that anyone with an eating disorder should get timely access to family-based therapy and enhanced cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT-E).