WEDNESDAY, Oct. 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Healthy lifestyle habits could prevent about half of all diabetes cases that develop during pregnancy, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at data from more than 14,000 American women. They found that the strongest risk factor for diabetes during pregnancy ("gestational diabetes") was being overweight or obese during pregnancy. Women who were obese before pregnancy had more than a four times higher risk of gestational diabetes than those who had a normal weight before pregnancy.
Women who were at a normal weight at the start of pregnancy, and who didn't smoke and were physically active had a 52 percent lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than other women, according to the researchers.
Although this study reports associations between the development of diabetes in pregnancy and certain lifestyle factors, the study was not designed to prove whether or not they directly cause diabetes.
The strongest association was found for women who had all of the healthy lifestyle behaviors: a normal weight, healthy eating, exercise and no smoking. These women were 83 percent less likely to develop gestational diabetes than those with none of those habits, the researchers reported.
The researchers believe that almost half of all gestational diabetes could be prevented if women were at a normal, healthy weight before pregnancy, didn't smoke and participated in regular physical activity.
But, even women who were overweight or obese before pregnancy reduced their risk of gestational diabetes if they exercised, did not smoke and ate a healthy diet, according to the study published Sept. 30 in the BMJ.
The results suggest that the time before and during pregnancy "could represent an opportunity to change diet and lifestyle as these women might be particularly motivated to adhere to advice to improve pregnancy and/or birth outcomes," the researchers concluded.
While these types of lifestyle changes are not easy, the study findings "should give health professionals and women planning a pregnancy the encouragement they need to try even harder," said Sara Meltzer, an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal, who wrote an accompanying editorial, according to a journal news release.
Gestational diabetes is a common pregnancy complication that can potentially have harmful effects on mothers and babies.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about gestational diabetes.