Disadvantaged women are 42% more likely to be obese after childbirth than their well-off counterparts, it has emerged.
Researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute and University College Dublin also found obesity levels were higher among poorer women with a number of children.
However, no link was found between obesity levels and family size among more affluent women.
The study of more than 10,000 mothers living in Ireland was led by Prof Michael Turner from the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction and Prof Richard Layte, economic sociologist at the ESRI.
Prof Layte said further studies should investigate why the obesity risk was more concentrated among lower income women.
“Future studies should investigate why this pattern occurs and what interventions may prevent it.
“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.”
He said health professionals needed to invest more time and effort with lower income couples who were at greater risk of gaining we-ight, particularly after having more than one child.
Almost 16% of the women were measured as being obese nine months after their first child. However, the obesity risk rose 7% after a second child. By the third the risk had risen by 30% and for the fourth or subsequent child, 63%.
The authors point out that care of a new child makes activities like cooking proper meals and getting exercise more difficult, increasing the obesity risk.
“Tackling the problem of postpartum obesity is becoming increasingly important due to the association between obesity and complications in pregnancy,” said Prof Turner.
He said the study showed that public health intervention should be tailored and targeted towards high-risk groups, particularly those who were socially and economically disadvantaged.
The authors also say excess weight gain in pregnancy is strongly associated with the risk of child obesity.
However, the study suggests that pregnancy could also give people a chance to assess their lifestyles and reduce the families’ health risks. It also indicates that greater involvement of male partners following the birth of a child, might have a positive effect as couples influenced each other lifestyles.
The study, published recently in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and is part of the national Growing Up in Ireland project. The study looked at 10,524 mothers who gave birth between Dec 2007 and May 2008. The women were selected from the national child benefit register maintained by the Department of Social Protection.
The group of mothers had their body mass calculated nine months after delivery as part of the Growing Up in Ireland infant cohort.
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