Earlier this year, a study in Pediatrics found women with obesity during pregnancy were about 67 percent more likely than normal-weight women to have a child impacted by autism. While this is only one study and more research needs to be done to confirm the correlation, it's one more risk added to the growing volume of evidence that shows the health issues women with obesity and their children face. And, with nearly 40 million adult women now obese, this creates a bleak picture for the health of future generations.
Obesity, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, has long been connected to significant adverse impacts on reproductive outcomes. According to a 2007 study published in the journal Human Fertility, obesity impacts a woman's ability to conceive and her response to fertility treatment. It also increases the risk of miscarriage, congenital anomalies and pregnancy complications, in addition to potential adverse effects on long-term health of both mother and infant.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has reported that when one parent is affected by obesity, there is a 50 percent chance that their children will also develop the condition. And what happens when both parents have obesity? The likelihood that their child will suffer the same fate jumps to 80 percent.
In West Virginia, the state with the sixth-highest ranking for overweight or obese children, 45 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds are overweight. Of those, 19 percent are obese, according to 2007 data from the National Survey of Children's Health. Research indicates that 70 percent of these adolescents will become overweight or obese as adults. Currently, 32.4 percent of West Virginia adults are obese, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite the progress being made in West Virginia, the increasing childhood and adolescent obesity rates need our attention. The time to take a stand against obesity is now, especially for women of childbearing age. As a practicing registered nurse in the field of maternal child medicine, I know that the health and nutrition choices a woman makes while trying to conceive, during her pregnancy and after giving birth are critically important to her health and the long-term health of her baby.
Women struggling with obesity need to be provided with options, and doctors must help them select a treatment course that best fits their individual needs. For some women, more exercise and a healthier diet will yield a desirable outcome. For others, safe and effective drug therapies could be an invaluable tool. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating obesity, we need an all-of-the-above solution to address this serious medical condition.
New drug therapies have recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Providing an array of treatment options for all individuals with obesity will enhance their health, help reduce health-care costs related to chronic conditions and, perhaps most importantly, begin to break the parent-to-child obesity cycle in West Virginia and across the country.
So the question now becomes, what are we waiting for? All adults, and especially women in their childbearing years, deserve access to a wide range of treatment options to effectively support their quest for better health. Providing more choices to adults in West Virginia and nationwide will protect the next generation from a heavier fate than the one their parents currently face.
Battaglino, a registered nurse, is the executive director of HealthyWomen, the nation's leading nonprofit health information source for women.