It might not be obvious on the scales, but healthy eating and more physical activity from walking during pregnancy are directly associated with a range of improved outcomes at birth, according to a press release from the University of Adelaide.

Results of the world’s biggest study of its kind—offering healthy eating and exercise advice to pregnant women who are overweight or obese—were published October 13 in two papers in the journal BMC Medicine.

“While it might have been expected that healthier eating and increased physical activity during pregnancy would be associated with differences in weight gain, our findings highlight that weight gain in pregnancy is not an ideal measure of pregnancy health,” said study leader Professor Jodie Dodd, from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

  • The changes in diet and physical activity were directly associated with significant improvements in outcomes for babies.
  • Women who received dietary and lifestyle advice increased the number of servings of fruits and vegetablesthey consumed per day, while reducing the percentage of energy in their diet derived from saturated fats.
  • Women were also successful in increasing their physical activity by walking briskly for about 15-20 minutes on most days of the week.

Study leaders have previously reported a significant reduction in the number of babies born weighing more than 4 kilograms (about 8.8 pounds) to women who received diet and lifestyle advice during pregnancy. The researchers can now report a range of other benefits for these babies, including a lower chance of moderate to severe respiratory distress syndrome and a shorter hospital stay.

“Approximately 50% of women are overweight or obese during pregnancy. Until this study was conducted, there had been little evidence about the overall benefits of dietary and lifestyle interventions on this group of women,” said study coauthor Dr. Rosalie Grivell, from the University’s Robinson Research Institute.

“Our hope is that by following some simple, practical and achievable lifestyle advice, pregnant women can improve their health and the outcomes for their babies. We would, of course, recommend that these lifestyle changes be adopted as much as possible before women become pregnant,” Dr. Grivell says.