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Obesity Linked With Birth Defects

February 11, 2009

Obese women are more likely to give birth to children with birth abnormalities, according to new findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

British researchers said the health issues for children include spina bifida, heart problems, cleft palate and a number of other defects.

The findings underscore obesity’s role as a major health problem and add to evidence that being too heavy while pregnant carries risks for both mother and child.

Katherine Stothard and researchers from Britain’s Newcastle University told Reuters that they combined data from 18 studies to look at the risk of abnormalities of babies whose mothers were obese or overweight.

The study found obese women were nearly twice as likely to have a baby with neural tube defects, which are caused by the incomplete development of the brain or spinal cord. For one such defect, spina bifida, the risk more than doubled.

They also noted increased chances of heart defects, cleft lip and palate, water on the brain and problems in the growth of arms and legs.

Researchers stressed that birth abnormalities affect only about two to four percent of pregnancies therefore the absolute risk for obese women remains low.

“Obesity increases the risk of many pregnancy complications, and this article further clarifies that obesity impacts the risk of birth defects, especially neural tube defects and congenital heart defects,” said Loralei Thornburg of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, who was not involved in the study.

The World Health Organization estimates 400 million people around the world as obese, including 20 million under the age of five, and the number is growing.

Obesity raises the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and is a health pressure on an overburdened national health system.

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