Monday, February 22, 2016

300 Million Women Worldwide Are Obese; Research in Leading Nursing Journal Explores Effect of Obesity on Women’s Health

Washington, DC, February 22, 2016 — During the last 50 years, the number of overweight or obese individuals in the United States has doubled.  The World Health Organization reports that 300 million women worldwide can be categorized as obese.  While there are recent indications that Americans are working to reverse this trend, the effect on women’s health has been under-emphasized , especially in the areas of childbearing and menopause.

As awareness about weight management and the negative health outcomes associated with being overweight or obese have increased, public health programs have focused on promoting healthy weight through diet and exercise.  Researchers have demonstrated that obesity is associated with chronic illnesses (such as Type II diabetes), and evidence connects obesity during pregnancy with worse  health outcomes for the woman, such as gestational diabetes,  preeclampsia and increased rates of induction of labor and cesarean birth.

In a recent issue of Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN) from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) researchers explored obesity and women’s health.

“Early identification, effective screening mechanisms, and tailored interventions are urgently needed to reverse current trends,” wrote the series guest editor Kathie Records, PhD, RN, FAAN.  “However, care providers may be inexperienced at screening or uncomfortable with discussing weight-related concerns, which leaves women and their offspring at increased risk for poor outcomes.”

In “Exploring the Psychosocial Predictors of Gestational Diabetes and Birth Weight” Barbara L. Wilson, PhD, RNC-OB; Jane M. Dyer, PhD, CNM, FNP, MBA, FACNM; Gwen Latendresse, PhD, CNM, FACNM; Ben Wong, PhD; and Laurie Baksh, MPH, analyzed data from birth certificates dated between 2009 and 2011 for potential predictors of gestational diabetes and birth weight.  Predictors of gestational diabetes included high body mass index (obesity), increased age, depression during pregnancy, less education, lower income, and non-White ethnicity.   Cumulative stress was also significant for predicting birth weight.

In “Effect of Maternal Body Mass Index on Infant Breastfeeding Behaviors and Exclusive Direct Breastfeeding,” Ruth Lucas, PhD, RNC, CLS; Michelle Judge, PhD, RD, CD-N; Joanna Sajdlowska, BS; Xiaomei Cong, PhD, RN; Jacqueline M. McGrath, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN; and Debra Brandon, PhD, RN, reviewed data from a longitudinal study to describe the effect of maternal body mass index on infant breastfeeding behaviors. Overweight or obese mothers with infants described as vigorous breastfeeders were less likely to exclusively breastfeed.  Additionally, only 40% of all mother infant dyads in the study exclusively breastfed.

In “Women’s Perceptions Regarding Obesity and Comorbidities and Provider Interaction,” Jennifer Goldkamp, MD; Jeffrey A. Gavard, PhD; Yulia Lifits-Podorozhansky, MD; and Sara Anderson, MD; assessed non-pregnant women’s perceptions as to the effect of weight on health using a questionnaire-based survey.  The majority (65%) of respondents were overweight or obese, yet 44% underestimated their body mass index.  Increasing actual body mass index was inversely correlated with ability to identify obesity as a health risk factor.  Additionally, only 43% of participants discussed their weight with medical professionals.

In “Implications for Policy to Support Healthy Weight for Women” Sue Kendig, JD, MSN, WHNP-BC, FAANP, reviewed prevalence and health outcomes of obese women, including disparities with childbearing.  She observed that women have twice the prevalence of obesity as men worldwide.  In the United States, people who are less educated or have  lower incomes  or women of color are disproportionately affected by obesity.  Due to the increase of obesity, related health conditions, and costs to public health and health care system, the federal government has created health initiatives to address this issue.

“Nurses need to become more comfortable and proactive in discussing weight and related health issues with women,” said AWHONN CEO, Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN.  “While the U.S. is making progress on recognizing and addressing obesity, much more work needs to be done to better educate women so they understand the associated health risks.”

For media interviews, contact:
Kelly Mack for AWHONN

About JOGNN 
The Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN), is an internationally ranked scientific and technical journal published bimonthly by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.  JOGNN is online at

Since 1969, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) has been the foremost authority  promoting the health of women and newborns and strengthening the nursing profession through the delivery of superior advocacy, research, education, and other professional and clinical resources.  AWHONN represents the interests of 350,000 registered nurses working in women’s health, obstetric, and neonatal nursing across the United States.  Learn more about AWHONN at