Shedding just a few pounds could double chance of getting pregnant
Women who lose just a few pounds could double their chance of getting pregnant, a major study has found.
Research on hundreds of couples trying to start a family found that women who managed to lose just over half a stone had significantly higher conception rates.
The study, presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting, in Helsinki, involved 577 women who suffered from fertility problems.
Half were given intensive coaching and advice on how best to shed the pounds, under a plan which aimed to help them lose five per cent of body weight.
On average, the dieters lost nine and half pounds, over the six month period.
When rates of conception were compared two years later, those who had been put on a diet were far more likely to have become pregnant naturally.
Among overweight and obese women – those starting out with a body mass index between 29 and 35 – those who lost weight had conception rates of 25 per cent, compared with rates of just 12.6 per cent for those who were not put on a diet.
Latest figures show almost 60 per cent of adult women in England are overweight or obese.
Stuart Lavery, consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said: “Sometimes the changes in BMI do not have to be enormous and that’s quite reassuring for a lot of people because it is really difficult to actually go out there and lose the weight.”
The study, involving 23 fertility centres, was carried out by the University Medical Centre in Groningen, the Netherlands.
Women were put on a lifestyle programme, with personalised coaching from specially trained nurses, who gave them advice about reducing calorie intake and taking exercise, such as walking and participating in moderately intensive sports.
Four in five women stuck to the diet, achieving average weight-loss of 9.7 pounds, over the six months.
“One of the messages from this study is not to do things to do things too aggressively,” Mr Lavery said. “If you are too aggressive and go to a starvation diet you can end up doing worse, in terms of your reproductive outcome. It’s all about common sense and doing things in a controlled fashion.”
Experts said losing weight was likely to help to reduce insulin resistance, which could help to restore fertility.
But they also said that couples might have more sex if women felt more confident about their bodies after a successful diet.
“There is reasonable evidence that if you lose weight, you feel better about yourself, and you have more sex,” Mr Lavery said.
Dr Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said: “Obesity is a massive problem in the UK and has major ramifications throughout life but particularly on reproductive health. We also know losing weight may have a beneficial effect on the long-term health of the baby conceived.”
Experts said there was no magic diet to boost fertility, just balanced sensible calorie cutting and daily exercise.
Dr Balen said: “Essentially, if you are overweight, you want to restrict calories, maybe by 500 calories a day to 1,500 calories diet. Daily exercise, so cardiovascular exercise – 30 to 45 minutes a day – and if you can achieve that you would expect to lose one or two pounds a week and that is sustainable.”
Prof Nick Macklon, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Southampton, said: “This is an important study, in that it does throw an emphasis on the importance of pre-conceptional care, of which losing weight in obese women is just one.”
“You should not just go on a huge crash diet and reduce your calories to almost zero."