THE first two decades of this millennium have seen a dramatic rise in the incidence of obesity around the world.
Reduced exercise, poor diets high in sugar, fat and salt, and increased city living and time spent in front of screens are all blamed for recent obesity findings, including that 52 per cent of Australian women are overweight or obese. Of serious concern is that 35 per cent of women aged 25-35 are overweight or obese, during years when many are considering having children.
Obesity in pregnancy is linked to increased complications during labour and delivery. Maternal obesity has also been found to slow cervical dilatation and increase the risk of prolonged labour. Obese pregnant women are also much more likely to require medical interventions to deliver their babies.
The release of figures in the latest NSW Mothers and Babies report shows overweight and obesity is a particular issue for pregnant Hunter women. Close to half of all mothers in the Hunter New England area in 2018 were in the overweight or obese range.
The figures for the whole state showed a wide variation in obesity levels for women, with only 24.2 per cent in the relatively affluent Northern Sydney Local Health District classed as overweight or obese, but 52.6 per cent in the Far West Local Health District.
The real problem in Australia is that figures showing obesity levels are rising, that have been produced and discussed year-in, year-out for at least the past two decades, do not seem to be cutting through. On the contrary, the more we talk about the obesity epidemic, the more the figure seems to rise.
Seriously concerning is the impact of pregnant women's obesity on their unborn babies, research in the past decade is showing. There are concerns that unborn babies' body chemistry can be changed if mothers are obese, leaving children at higher risk of serious health impacts for life, although more research needs to be done.
The NSW Mothers and Babies report revealed another disturbing trend in the Hunter New England region, where the research on babies' health is very clear. The report found 16.1 per cent mothers in the region reported smoking at some time in pregnancy in 2018, a jump from 14.5 per cent in 2017, while only 9.1 per cent of NSW mothers said they smoked "at all" during pregnancy.
That is not an increase we want to see.