Trends in maternal body mass index, health inequalities, and the impact of maternal obesity on NHS maternity services

  • Nicola Heslehurst

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The primary objective of the work presented in this thesis was to identify trends in maternal body mass index (BMI) over time, the demographic predictors of those women most at risk of being obese in pregnancy, health inequalities, and the impact of maternal obesity on maternity services. A mixed methodology utilised quantitative and qualitative research to address these objectives. Data were collated from 34 maternity units across England, including 619,323 deliveries between 1989 and 2007 inclusive. Analysis identified an increasing incidence of maternal obesity over time, regional differences in incidence, and significant inequalities with women residing in the highest levels of deprivation, and Black ethnic group. A systematic review was carried out including 49 studies investigating obesity and pregnancy outcomes with acute maternity resource implications. The meta-analysis found significantly increased odds of a number of outcomes, and concluded that maternal obesity had a considerable impact on maternity resources, and contributed towards a poorer prognosis for the mother and the baby during delivery and in the immediate post-partum period. Qualitative interviews and focus groups with 30 HCPs across eight NHS Trusts in the North East of England were carried out to identify barriers in implementing maternal obesity services, and to gain HCPs perspectives on what they felt was required in order to address maternal obesity effectively. The study identified the themes of ‘Service Development’, ‘Psychosocial Issues and Maternal Obesity Services’, ‘Information, Evidence, and Training’, and ‘Where to go From Here?’. Overall this programme of research has identified that maternal obesity is increasing over time and is significantly associated with health inequalities. The increase in maternal obesity has an impact on acute services, and HCPs feel that a holistic approach is required through partnership work in order to address maternal obesity effectively. This programme of research has primarily contributed to the knowledge of maternal obesity with the provision of the first national level statistics for trends in maternal obesity. The research has also provided a holistic view of the impact of obesity in pregnancy on maternity services, including the impact on resources and the issues relating to addressing the maternal obesity in clinical practice. The research has also identified aspects of service that need to be improved, and knowledge gaps in how to move services forward to effective address maternal obesity. The contribution of this research to the knowledge base is emphasised in the journal pre-publications, dissemination through UK and European, and international conference presentations, being an invited speaker at a number of conferences in the UK, and I received the 2007 Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) Student Researcher Award for producing exemplary work in the study of obesity.
Date of Award20 Mar 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorCarolyn Summerbell (Supervisor), John R. Wilkinson (Supervisor) & Judith Rankin (Supervisor)

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