Obese pregnant women 'cost NHS up to 37% more'

Baby scan Image copyright SPL
Image caption Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can lead to more hospital or doctor visits

Pregnant women who are obese can cost the NHS over a third more than women of healthy weight, a Swansea University study has found.

The average cost of treating an obese pregnant woman was £4,718 compared to £3,546 for one who was not overweight, said the College of Medicine.

The researchers analysed body mass index measures from 484 pregnant women.

The BMA recommended women thinking about becoming pregnant should try to become fit and healthy in advance.

To come up with the total cost the researchers adjusted for factors such as age, class, health and smoking, and looked at the women's total usage of NHS services, including GP visits, medication and any inpatient or outpatient treatment.

The study only looked at the mother's use of services and not any involving the baby.

A healthy weight is classed as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9.

The research found costs to the NHS per pregnancy were 23% higher for overweight women (classed as having a BMI of 24.9 to 30) and 37% higher for those classed as obese (a BMI of over 30).

Both overweight and obese women spent on average 30% more days in hospital, and had between 15-20% greater usage of all healthcare services.

The additional costs to the NHS across the UK added up to anywhere between £105m and £286m.

Poorer child health

The researchers said if money was invested in preventing obesity in young women prior to pregnancy it would save the NHS money, and also give better health outcomes for both the mother and baby.

They described the statistic that one in 20 pregnant women was severely obese during pregnancy as "one of the biggest challenges presented to maternity services within the UK".

Lead researcher Kelly Morgan said: "Our study shows that the extra costs of obesity in pregnancy are significant and our figures are conservative as they exclude areas such as absenteeism from work.

"In addition, other evidence shows that maternal obesity is often associated with poorer health in the children, which in turn creates extra cost."

Susanne Darra, head of midwifery studies at Swansea University said: "[The study] demonstrates how much may be spent on interventions to prevent obesity in pregnancy, in order to remain cost-effective."

Dr Mark Temple, a member of BMA Cymru's Welsh Committee for Public Health Medicine, told BBC Wales: "I know that the Welsh Medical Committee suggested to the Welsh government that they had to response to the obesogenic environment.

"I'm delighted somebody's done the research and I'm delighted that it's happened locally. [The results are] no surprise."

Dr Temple said in reference to a call last week from the World Health Organisation to halve the amount of sugar people consume: "It would be nice if Wales led the way on this."

He said governments had to think about taking legislative measures to tackle the problem.

"The free market is not a good idea," he added.

He said measures to control things like the location of fast food outlets were important.

Dr Temple added: "Whilst we all recognise that obesity is a major problem, it is most important that those women who are obese are not made to feel that it is their fault because blaming the victim is something governments have been in a habit of doing."

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