Obesity action 'should be targeted'
Women from poorer backgrounds are 42% more likely to be obese after childbirth, a report has revealed.
More than 10,000 mothers took part in the study, which found the risk of obesity drops for more affluent women after several children while it rises for those in the three lowest income groups.
Researchers said postpartum obesity is associated with lower household income, smoking, lower breastfeeding duration and earlier completion of full-time education and warned it is strongly associated with the risk of child obesity.
University College Dublin Professor Michael Turner said the results should have implications for the way public health campaigns are delivered.
"The study shows that public health interventions related to obesity in women with children should be tailored and targeted towards high-risk groups; particularly those who are socio-economically disadvantaged," he said.
The study focused on a representative sample of 10,524 mothers, all of whom gave birth between December 2007 and May 2008.
Almost 16% were measured as being obese nine months after the birth of their first child, but this risk rose by 7% after the birth of the second child. By the third child the risk had risen by 30% and for the fourth or subsequent child, by 63%. The researchers also accepted care of the new child crowds out other activities such as cooking proper meals and getting exercise.
It also showed women in the lowest income group are 42% more likely to be obese than women in the highest income group. Elsewhere women who breastfeed for six months or more are 35% less likely to be obese than women who do not, even adjusting for income and other factors
The study was recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and forms part of the national Growing Up in Ireland project.
Professor Richard Layte, economic sociologist at the Economic and Social Research Institute, said: "Becoming a parent can bring with it lifestyle changes that can have serious implications for weight gain, the risk of gestational diabetes in future pregnancies and chronic disease. Pregnancy can be a turning point in lifetime health risks and this research shows that such risks are more concentrated among lower income women. Future studies should investigate why this pattern occurs and what interventions may prevent it. The research shows that healthcare professionals need to invest more time and effort with lower income couples who are at a greater risk of gaining weight."