A diagnosis of any type of diabetes is a signal that some kind of lifestyle changes might be a good idea — whether it’s weight loss, exercise, or dietary changes. A new study from researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that women who receive a diagnosis of gestational diabetes make some changes to their diets, even though these changes are modest.
Gestational diabetes is a form of the disease that affects pregnant women who have not had diabetes before being pregnant (some women can have it during two or more pregnancies). A test for gestational diabetes is normally given in the middle of pregnancy (24 and 28 weeks), and although gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy, women who have had it are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
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Because of that higher risk, women who have experienced gestational diabetes should be tested for diabetes six to 12 weeks after delivery and then every one to three years. Also, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that it’s important for a woman who has had gestational diabetes to exercise and eat a healthy diet after pregnancy. The new study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Diabetes, was designed to find out how well women were following the CDC’s advice.
The researchers collected data from 12 U.S. hospital centers on 72 women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes and compared that to data collected from 1,299 women who did not have gestational diabetes. Information on food intake was derived from 24-hour dietary recalls, and information on exercise was collected at five points from weeks 16 to 41 of pregnancy.
The good news was that, in general, the women did cut their total intake of calories after receiving a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. Another bit of good news was that the gestational diabetes group kept up their prediagnosis exercise routine. The not-so-good news was that the caloric decrease was modest — an average of 184 calories a day.
Reduction in calories mostly due to a decrease in carb intake
The main cause of the reduction in calories was a decrease in carbohydrate intake — about 47.6 grams (1.7 ounces) per day. The drop in calories and carbs, the researchers also determined, was characteristic of only the women who had received a gestational diabetes diagnosis. The other women continued their usual dietary habits. “Although positive,” the researchers wrote, “these changes may represent ‘low hanging fruit,’ and there are likely remaining opportunities to further improve education and patient behavior related to dietary intake and exercise after a diagnosis of [gestational diabetes].”
The researchers also looked to see if there were any differences based on age, race/ethnicity, and other characteristics. They determined that the women who tended to reduce their carb intake the most were in the non-Hispanic Black women group. The Asian group was second and white women third. The carb intake of Hispanic women didn’t change much.
As for age, the younger mothers tended to reduce their carb intake a lot more than the older ones. The ages 18-24 group had a 69.8% reduction; the 25-29 group had a 71.8% reduction; and the 30-34 group had a reduction of 52.3%. However, the oldest group, ages 35-41, reported a carb reduction of only 18.7%. Women who were at normal weight before their pregnancies cut back their carbs by 64.6%, but women who were overweight before their pregnancies reported a reduction of only 51.4%. Education also seemed to play something of a role: women with a bachelor’s degree or higher cut carb intake the most. One of the most interesting findings was that women diagnosed with gestational diabetes didn’t make any major changes to their exercise habits but mostly continued what they were doing before the diagnosis.
That differences existed between how the women changed (or didn’t change) their dietary and exercise routines after receiving a diagnosis of gestational diabetes was, the researchers said, one of their most valuable discoveries. According to Stefanie Hinkle, PhD, one of the study authors, “The improvements in diet that we observed were not equitable across all groups of women. This research highlights the importance of creating individualized programs to ensure that all women with gestational diabetes are successful at modifying their diet and optimizing their health.”
Want to learn more about gestational diabetes? Read “Glucose Test During Pregnancy for Gestational Diabetes,” “Treatment for Gestational Diabetes: Once You’re Diagnosed,” and “Gestational Diabetes: More Treatment Approaches.”