Media releases

May 11, 2016


More expectant mothers and their unborn children are at risk of long-term health issues because of obesity, according to new data released today by Medibank.

The Medibank Better Health Index data revealed that 59.6 per cent[1] of expecting mothers are overweight or obese – 10 per cent more than in 2008[2] (49 per cent).

“We are seeing rising levels of obesity at a national level, and it’s even more alarming that this trend is consistent among expectant mothers,” Medibank Medical Director, Dr Kevin Cheng said.

“Obesity can cause complications for both mother and infant during pregnancy, labour and after the birth, and can put both mother and child at higher risk of developing health issues such as type 2 diabetes later in life.”

Medibank member data also shows the number of births where gestational diabetes was recorded has doubled between 2008 and 2015.

“While this data could be influenced by changes in reporting patterns, increasing maternal age and obesity trends over time are certainly important contributing factors,” he added.

The Medibank Better Health Index, a weekly health survey of approximately 1,000 Australians, also reveals a marked increase in the percentage of mothers suffering from antenatal anxiety and depression.

In 2015, 23.9 per cent of expectant mothers suffered from anxiety, compared to only 8.1 per cent in 2010[3]. In the same period, the rate of depression among expecting mothers increased by almost five per cent (4.2 per cent).

Dr Cheng says there needs to be more support available to women in the lead up to and during their pregnancy.

“While there are numerous factors that contribute to mental health issues among expectant mothers, obesity has been identified as a complicating co-morbidity to the increased incidence of anxiety and depression.”

“It’s essential that friends and family members look out for symptoms of mental health issues during a woman’s pregnancy, and seek the support of qualified medical professionals if the mother appears to be struggling,” Dr Cheng said.


Health tips for expectant mothers and those looking to start a family

If you’re planning to get pregnant:

  • If you’ve been thinking about losing weight, now is the time. Women who are sitting at a healthy weight increase their chances of falling pregnant, and are more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and birth.
  • Take a look at the Government’s guidelines for recommended weight gain during pregnancy. For example, for women who fall into the ‘obese’ BMI category, it is recommended they only gain five to nine kilograms.
  • If you suffer from a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure or depression, check with your doctor to ensure it can be managed effectively during your pregnancy.
  • If you’d like to make use of private health insurance benefits during your pregnancy, remember that most health funds have a 12-month waiting period on obstetrics.

If you’re pregnant: 

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and avoid foods like processed or raw meat, certain seafood, unpasteurised milk, and soft cheeses.

  • Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. Great exercises for expectant mothers include walking, swimming, yoga, and aquanatal classes.
  • Up your folic acid, calcium and iron in take which can help reduce the risk of your baby suffering from issues with its spine and nervous system. Folic acid can be taken as a supplement, but is also found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, fruit, dried beans and peas.
  • Depression can be hard to identify when you’re pregnant, or have a baby, given it’s a time of major change and adjustment. Learn how to read the signs, for example, if you’ve felt low in mood, alone, experienced a loss of interest in things you would normally enjoy, as well as decreased energy for prolonged periods, it’s time to get help.

If you’re looking to start a family, remember that with private health insurance, you can choose your obstetrician, your private hospital, or both.

Medibank also offers a Private Hospital Accident and Emergency benefit on all Families package products. This means that a child or student dependent member on New Families Comprehensive, New Families Essentials, Settled Families Comprehensive and Settled Families Essentials who attends a private hospital Accident and Emergency Department will have access to a benefit of $250 per annum payable for the facility fee. For further information go to:


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[1] Data collected by Roy Morgan Research, January 2015 to December 2015

[2] Data collected by Roy Morgan Research, January 2007 to December 2007

[3] 12.2% of expecting mothers suffered from depression in 2015, compared to 8.0% in 2010 (data collected January to December)


Notes to Editors:

Between 1989 - 2012, the prevalence of overweight/obesity in adults has increase from 44 per cent to 63 per cent. In 2012, more than one in four reproductive age women were in the obese category. Obesity is a risk factor for pregnancy and birth complications for both mother and baby. High body mass index is Australia’s leading preventable risk factor contributing our burden of disease. 


About the Medibank Better Health Index:
The Medibank Better Health Index is Australia’s most up-to-date and comprehensive quarterly health survey. Interviewing approximately 1,000 Australians each week since 2007, it offers a rich, in-depth look into the state of the nation’s health and how it’s changing. The Index is centred on seven health indicators: Nutrition, Fitness, BMI, Medical Health, Mental Health, Smoking and Alcohol. Each indicator is made up from numerous factors, which are all relevant to the respective health area. Together, these indicators make up the overall Health Index Score, which when combined year-on-year, lets us see whether Australia’s health is getting better or worse over time. 



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