3 Ways to Prevent Gestational Diabetes

October 3, 2014

New data highlights the importance of 3 key behaviors of all women of reproductive age for preventing gestational diabetes.

If you keep saying it, eventually it'll sink in, right? It's frustrating to give advice and patients not take it, but some things are still important to say, over and over and over again. Among the growing list of things to tell your patients is this: 3 key behaviors-healthful eating/healthy body weight, physical activity, and shunning cigarettes-have been identified as having the upmost importance when it comes to preventing gestational diabetes.

Researchers who looked at 20,136 singleton live births in 14,437 women without chronic disease found that gestational diabetes was 41% less likely to develop in women who did not smoke, who participated in regular exercise, and who were of a healthy weight compared with other pregnant women.

Key Findings

- Healthy lifestyle habits, including nutritious eating and maintaining a healthy weight, reduced the likelihood of gestational diabetes.

- The risk of the disease was most associated with a woman's weight before pregnancy, with overweight or obese women having the highest risk.

- Researchers believe clinicians can continue to use the knowledge to motivate pregnant women, and women of reproductive age, to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The study, whose participants were US women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II between 1989 and 2001, found the strongest individual risk factor for gestational diabetes was pre-existing overweight or obesity-an unsurprising finding considering that overweight/obesity is a primary risk factor for the condition. And for women with a BMI above 33, their risk of the disease developing was four times that of women with a normal pre-pregnancy BMI.

During the study period, there were 823 pregnancies that involved a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

The authors, writing in the latest issue of BMJ, suggest that clinicians must continue to press for lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise for women before and during pregnancy. They suggest that women may be more motivate to improve their wellness through proper nutrition and exercise because they have an interest in healthy pregnancies and birth outcomes.

“Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout one’s reproductive life would confer the greatest benefit,” they concluded. “A healthy diet and regular exercise were associated with a substantial lower risk, independent of their benefit on body weight. Importantly, among both normal weight and overweight/obese women a healthy lifestyle was related to a lower risk.”

The healthiest of the women in the study-those who didn’t smoke, were active, had normal weights and ate nutritiously-had an 83% lower risk of gestational diabetes developing.