Thursday, 27 June 2019 - 2:07pm


Excess weight gain in pregnancy and maternal obesity can have serious consequences for mothers and babies. Through a program of evidence-based lifestyle intervention into antenatal care, a group of passionate Tasmanian researchers and Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) clinicians are currently collaborating to identify the best ways to help pregnant women gain and maintain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy and afterwards.

Clinicians and public health advocates worldwide are calling for targeted efforts to limit the impacts of excess weight gain in pregnancy. Excessive gestational weight gain places mothers at higher risk of hypertension, gestational diabetes, and also delivery complications. It significantly increases the risk of large-for-gestation age babies and later obesity for the child, as well as being linked to weight retention and an increased risk of obesity or worsening obesity for the mother. Higher rates of maternal obesity and weight retention can in turn effect subsequent pregnancies, further compounding the associated risks.

Recent studies show that Australian women gain more weight than is recommended during their pregnancies, and more than half already begin their pregnancies overweight or obese. These figures are echoed throughout current local Tasmanian and RHH statistics. While stand-alone lifestyle interventions for pregnant women have been shown to be effective, the challenge is how to make this support available to all women in a practical and sustainable way. Enter the help from a RHHRF 2019-21 Major Project Grant and a highly-skilled research team! The new Major Project Grant team, based at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania (UTas) and led by Dr Michelle Kilpatrick, is set to draw on the clinical and research expertise of its members, including RHH clinicians, Dr Kristine Barden (obstetrics) and Sue McBeath (nursing and midwifery). The local team, supplemented with additional insight from Monash University, will be undertaking a three-year research project entitled “Health in Preconception, Pregnancy and Post-Birth (HIPPP): An antenatal lifestyle promotion program for the Royal Hobart Hospital” which aims to find the best ways women can be supported throughout the pregnancy care they receive at the RHH, and to ultimately make enduring improvements to their lifestyle, including a focus on achieving a healthy weight during pregnancy.

This latest major study will increase the capacity of the RHH antenatal service to sustainably and practically support positive lifestyle changes for almost 2000 women who attend the RHH each year to have their babies. This will also minimise or prevent future health complications related to obesity for these women, their children and families. The goal will be achieved through workforce development, and also by optimising systems, processes and patient resources. The project will use a collaborative approach between clinicians, patients, and researchers to integrate a proven intervention into the general routine of RHH antenatal care. The research team will not only evaluate the implementation process to determine how well and effectively lifestyle support has been integrated into care, it will also measure how sustainable it is and track the outcomes for mothers and babies.

With support from the RHHRF grant of $450K, this work aligns closely with the State Government’s goal of reducing overweight and obesity rates in Tasmania through targeting healthy eating and active living. The hope is that this study will lead to recommendations of national and international significance, focusing on integrating evidence-based lifestyle promotion into routine antenatal care, helping to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies in Tasmania and beyond. Watch this space!



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