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Health Effects of Obesity and Its Risks During Pregnancy

In part two of his interview to Flo, Scott Kahan focuses on diabetes (that has become much younger today) and other obesity-related diseases. By reading the article, you’ll also get to know in what way maternal obesity impacts the future child health.

A weighing scale

What are the most popular obesity-related diseases? 

I have a research study that I plan to publish soon, and it shows that there are 236 diseases associated with obesity.

Diabetes – the disease that changed its name due to obesity

Perhaps, the most common and the most well-known of them is diabetes. There has been an epidemic rise in diabetes rates over the past few decades. And this is particularly notable because it has even led to a change in how we call diabetics.

When I was in a medical school – and this is not too long ago, only two decades ago – diabetes was referred to as either childhood-onset or adult-onset. And the childhood onset was referred to people who developed diabetes very early and they had to take insulin. 

And the adult onset was referred to diabetes developed late in life, usually in the patients’ 50s, 60s, or 70s. 

This has changed substantially. The adult-onset diabetes is usually related to obesity and inactivity. And that happens now more frequently and at much earlier ages. 

And that had to change the names of this, because so many children and teenagers were getting adult onset diabetics.

Now we call it type 1 diabetes, which is not related to obesity and usually happens in children. As for the adult-onset diabetes, we now call it type 2 diabetes. It is almost always occurring in people with obesity and excess weight

In addition to occurring in older people, it now frequently occurs in younger adults, and adolescents and even young children. 

So, this type of diabetics is perhaps the most important and most concerning obesity-related disease. As I’ve mentioned, there are over two hundred of them. 

Heart disease rates are increasing again! 

Another very notable obesity-related disease is heart disease, cardiovascular disease. 

Of course, this is not new, but heart disease increased very substantially over the first half of the 20th century. Then, in the second half, the rate came down significantly. This was one of the most important public health advances. In the second half of the 20th century, the heart disease came down because smoking went down and because doctors became more taught to identify heart disease and treat them appropriately. 

That was a very wonderful thing but now we are seeing a change. In the last few years, heart disease rates are increasing again. This is the first time in about 75 years that heart disease rates are going up. And the primary cause of that is the continuing increase in obesity rates. So that are the most important two ones.

What are the consequences of maternal obesity? 

We have learnt over the last few years that obesity in pregnant women is particularly concerning because it can lead to transferring many health risks to the children.

Obesity itself is an inflammatory condition. When people gain a lot of weight the fat cells make a lot of hormones and chemicals that cause inflammation and those affect the developing fetus. And it can cause a lot of problems. 

In many ways the unborn child is already at higher risk and disadvantage in terms of their health risks even before being born.

First of all, it causes problems during the time of childbirth. The babies are bigger and there are more complications during the delivery as a result of bigger babies who get larger because of maternal obesity. 

But beyond that, it also leads to health risks in the young children. And as the baby grows into a child and into an adult, they may have higher risks for obesity themselves in future life. They have higher risk for diabetes. And this can congregate even over generations. 

Pregnant women increase the risk for obesity and obesity-related health problems in their children. And their children with the higher risk for obesity can further increase the risk for more obesity and obesity-related problems in next generations. 

In many ways the unborn child is already at higher risk and disadvantage in terms of their health risks even before being born.

Should you be active during pregnancy?

A woman exercises during pregnancy

There are many important health considerations and preventive steps for women who are planning to become pregnant

And one of them in addition to taking vitamins and other important steps is addressing eating patterns and physical activity and trying to manage weight. Each of those are related but also important on their own. 

We can talk more about nutrition, of course, that is important. Even small steps go a long way in terms of the quality of food that we eat. 

Physical activity is very important during pregnancy. There has been a change in recommendations over the past few years. In the past, often women were not recommended to continue their exercises and being active during pregnancy. 

Now it’s very clear that continuing physical activity throughout pregnancy is very important for both the health of the woman and the health of the developing fetus. 

Managing the weight prior to getting pregnant and also during pregnancy is also very important. 

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