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    Launching Australia's first ethnically diverse pregnancy weight calculator

    Julia and Ronnie

    Medibank and Monash University have produced a new evidence-based and free interactive tool to support all Australian women in achieving a healthy pregnancy weight gain.

    Women entering pregnancy often have their body mass index (BMI) calculated using height and weight information. This is used by health professionals to advise on how much weight to gain during pregnancy. However, new research indicates using BMI alone is not a one-size fits all approach.

    Professor Helena Teede, from Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Monash Public Health, at Monash University said the mother’s BMI entering pregnancy and her ethnicity matters greatly.

    “There’s a lot of research available outlining why the current BMI table, based on Caucasian and African-American women, may give incorrect results if used by other nationalities, such as Asian women,” said Professor Teede.

    Dr Cheryce Harrison, from Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Monash Public Health said the one-size fits all approach of standard online BMI calculators is especially concerning for Australia’s ethnically diverse population.

    “Our research shows that Asian women, especially, have a proportionally higher risk of complications, such as gestational diabetes from excessive weight gain during pregnancy. However, this often wouldn’t be picked up with online calculators that are currently available.”

    To help support all Australian families, Medibank and Monash University have produced Australia’s first ethnically diverse ‘Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy Calculator’. It’s located on Medibank’s new Live Better Families hub, or via www.medibank.com.au/livebetter/

    Dr Catherine Keating, Medibank’s Head of Health Economics & Outcomes, said pregnant women are encouraged to use the calculator regularly to assess whether their weight gain is within the recommended ranges, to optimise the health of mother and baby. The calculator will also include suggestions for healthy eating and safe exercises during pregnancy, to help women stay on track.

    “Many pregnancy weight tracking tools are from the US and UK and aren’t user friendly. They’re in inches and pounds and don’t address ethnicity or provide healthy lifestyle advice specific to the needs of pregnant women. For the first time, we’re asking mums-to-be to select their ethnicity, so we can provide a more accurate and personalised result. They can also continue using it at any point during their pregnancy,” said Dr Keating.

    “As a mother of two young daughters, I remember receiving advice such as being encouraged to ‘eat for two’. The problem is these suggestions may increase the risk of pregnancy complications,” added Dr Keating.

    The new ‘Live Better Families’ hub includes other tools such as an ovulation tracker, due date calculator, ‘what to expect’ information, as well as over 100 helpful articles on nutrition, exercise, planning a family, as well as tips for new parents.

    Dr Keating said the new hub aims to support all growing families achieve better health.

    “On the hub pregnant women can sign up for a new weekly email program, delivering relevant information about their pregnancy journey. This is open to all women, not just Medibank customers,” she said.

    Early next year, Medibank and Monash University will begin recruitment for one of Australia’s first pre-conception to post-partum healthy lifestyle programs to optimise weight gain across this life stage. The trial will run for three years.

    In 2017, Professor Teede and PhD student Dr Rebecca Goldstein led ground-breaking research which revealed around 50 per cent of women gain too much weight during pregnancy while 25 per cent gain too little weight – both of which can cause adverse outcomes such as premature births.

    Professor Teede and Dr Harrison have led important research to show that healthy lifestyle interventions can protect against excess weight gain in pregnancy and have collaborated with international colleagues to show this reduces weight-related pregnancy complications.

    The studies confirm Medibank’s own data which shows an increasing trend of pregnancy-related adverse health outcomes. Out of 16,500 births in 2017, gestational diabetes was recorded in more than one out of every 10 pregnancies.

    Voluntary participants for the trial will be recruited from Medibank’s customer base and will receive evidence-based dietary advice, as well as support to stay physically active to optimise a healthy weight range – from pre-conception, during pregnancy and after birth. Other pre-conception support will include screening for fertility risks and other pregnancy risks, such as smoking, alcohol and inadequate folate intake.

    Professor Teede said she was thrilled to see the research being applied through the partnership, with the results to benefit all Australian women.

    The trial will be funded by the Medibank Better Health Foundation and run through the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, at Monash University.

    Notes to editors:

    Once pregnant, 50 per cent of women have excessive gestational weight gain and 65 per cent retain weight postpartum.

    Each excess kilo gained is linked to a 10 per cent increase in adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes.

    Expected trial outcomes will include improved pre-conception health behaviours, adherence to international gestational weight gain recommendations in pregnancy, reduced pregnancy complications (gestational diabetes, caesarean rates and neonatal admissions) and fewer women with postpartum weight retention.

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