How obesity and other lifestyle factors can affect fertility rates
Fertility I am a strong believer in the life-course approach to improving the health and wellbeing of girls and women, not least because of the very real need to shift the focus of healthcare provision away from treating illness towards prevention by promoting good health.
To do so successfully, we need to place women at the centre of their care; educating and empowering them to actively seek healthier lifestyles. This is particularly important for girls and women approaching and during their reproductive years, helping them to take control of their fertility. Benefits from adopting this approach at a young age will also reap rewards for women in their post-reproductive years.
Helping girls and women understand that they can take ownership of their own health also benefits their families and society as a whole. For those planning a family, there are many factors at play which can impact fertility. Trying for a baby can be a stressful time for many couples and the time it takes can vary. A young, healthy couple have a 25% to 30% chance of conceiving during the first few months and 80% will conceive within one year.
Obesity is a major health concern and has reached pandemic proportions globally. One in five pregnant women are obese – which increases their risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death, gestational diabetes, blood clots, pre-eclampsia, more complicated labours, and severe bleeding after the birth.
Having a normal bodyweight increases the chances of conceiving naturally and reduces the risk of complications for both mother and baby. It is therefore very important that women actively maintain a healthy weight, exercise and eat healthily prior to conception and limit weight gain during pregnancy in order to improve their own health and provide their baby with the best start in life. We need to eradicate the ‘eating for two’ myth once and for all!
Women tend to be more concerned about health issues during pregnancy, which presents doctors and midwives with a unique opportunity to help expectant parents adopt lifestyle approaches, such as limiting alcohol, caffeine and stopping smoking, that helps them prevent future ill health for themselves and their children.
I know that high quality sex and relationship education in schools can play a crucially important role in preserving and promoting fertility for men and women. There is strong evidence that good sex and relationship education helps to reduce unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, that can adversely affect fertility.
The reality is that if we want to create a healthy, productive society, we have to educate and support young men and women to make sensible and realistic lifestyle choices, that improve their chances of maintaining good health as they age.