Research indicates that as many as one in five are obese (Body Mass Index > 30) when they become pregnant, a condition that makes them 3 times more likely to die within a month of giving birth as compared to women of normal weight. Medical evidence also indicates obesity is linked to higher incidence of Caesarean sections, birth defects and SIDS.

Recently, the NY Times reported on the sad case of Patricia Garcia who at 5 feet tall and 261 pounds, had a BMI (51) classified as superobese, or morbidly obese. After a complication-riddled health pre-pregnancy health history that included multiple strokes, Patricia she gave birth prematurely via emergency Caesarean section to a 1-pound-11-ounce baby (obese women are almost twice as likely to give birth to a stillborn child) and expressed fear that her obesity-related heath conditions (called co-morbidities) would prevent her from watching her little boy grow up. Sadly her fears were well-founded; Patricia recently died in her sleep at the age of 39, robbing her infant son of ever knowing his mother.

About one in five women are obese when they become pregnant, according to federal research. Obese women are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, anesthesia complications, hemorrhage, blood clots and strokes during pregnancy and childbirth. Studies have shown that babies born to obese women are nearly three times as likely to die within a month of birth as those born to women of normal weight, and obese women are almost twice as likely to have a stillbirth.

Combating Obesity One Mom at a Time

So what can be done? Hospitals are doing things not just to accommodate heavy patients (bigger beds, sensitivity training for staff) but to reduce the incidence of obesity-complicated pregnancies by counseling women to lose weight or schedule weight loss surgery before they become pregnant. This not only protects the woman’s immediate health, but the child’s future chances of breaking the obesity cycle — i.e. evidence shows that women who undergo bariatric surgery before becoming pregnant are less likely to have children that become obese.

In an interesting twist on the influence of environment on genetic development, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that after bariatric surgery, a woman’s amniotic fluid contains fewer substances known to contribute to the likelihood a child becomes obese.

“Oftentimes, obesity is caused by preventable factors such as poor eating habits or a lack of physical activity.”

According to CDC, environment plays a large role in obesity; as well, the American Journal of Sociology reported a study that concluded a family’s lifestyle has a major impact on whether teens will end up overweight (Patricia Garcia’s brother, in fact, reached 700 lbs before having gastric bypass surgery).

But just as obesity seems to be ‘catching’ (Catching Fat, Like a Cold) so too can healthy habits spread through exposure. After weight loss surgery a patient who begins healthier exercise and diet habits will impart those to family members, helping to break the unhealthy behaviors that lead to obesity.

This is especially important for children, and not just because little ones like 11-month-old Josiah Garcia are born with challenges, and will never know his mother, but because the problem of childhood obesity has reached such proportions The New England Journal of Medicine, the next generation of children may be the first in history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.