Estimates are that as many as two-thirds of Americans or overweight, and, over the past several decades, even gestational weight by pregnant women has increased in the United States. As gestational weights continue to climb beyond recommended amounts, researchers are discovering this extra weight can result in undesirable birth outcomes, postpartum weight retention, and childhood obesity, as well as higher risks for obesity in the mother. Yet, what may play the biggest factor in pregnancy weight gain is a woman’s perception about her own pre-pregnancy body weight.
A study recently published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth conducted by Sharon J. Herring and colleagues, examines the association of misperceived pre-pregnancy body weight with excessive gestational weight gain and found there is a correlation. The study involved 1537 women. Of the 1537 women, 1029 women had normal body mass index (BMI). Of those 1029 women with normal BMIs, 87 percent (898 women) accurately perceived their weight. The remaining 13 percent (131 women) overassessed their weight. Of the 508 who were overweight or obese, 86 percent (438 women) accurately perceived their weight, while 14 percent (70 women) underassessed their pre-pregnancy weight status.
The researchers hypothesized that those women who either overassessed or underassed their weight would be at greater risk for excessive gestational weight gain than women who accurately perceived their pre-pregancy weight status. After adjusting for variabilities and other factors, the researchers discovered “misperceived pre-pregnancy body weight status was directly associated with excessive gestational weight gain in both normal weight and overweight/obese women.” Moreover, overweight or obese women who underestimated their weight increased their pregnancy weight gain seven-fold, while “normal weight women who overassessed their pre-pregnancy weight status had twice the odds of excessive gestational weight gain.”
What contributes to these misperceptions is varied. It can be due to the media’s portrayal of stick-thin women or a lack of awareness about what proper weight is because so many people are overweight in America. In addition, many people do not understand what a proper portion size is because fast food and dine-in restaurants regularly provide extra large portions. Race may also be a contributing factor in pregnancy weight gain because, according to Herring and colleagues, both Black and Hispanic women accept a heavier body image as normal, and, they also fail to recognize they may be overweight or obese. In addition, people often underestimate or fail to take into account how much they eat and how much they exercise, which in turn leads to even greater weight gain.