Diet or exercise, or both, for preventing excessive weight gain in pregnancy

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jun 15;2015(6):CD007145. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007145.pub3.


Background: This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2012, Issue 4. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy is associated with poor maternal and neonatal outcomes including gestational diabetes, hypertension, caesarean section, macrosomia, and stillbirth. Diet or exercise interventions, or both, may reduce excessive gestational weight gain (GWG) and associated poor outcomes; however, evidence from the original review was inconclusive.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of diet or exercise, or both, interventions for preventing excessive weight gain during pregnancy and associated pregnancy complications.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (5 November 2014), contacted investigators of the previously identified ongoing studies and scanned reference lists of retrieved studies.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of diet or exercise, or both, interventions for preventing excessive weight gain in pregnancy.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risk of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy. We organised RCTs according to the type of interventions and pooled data using the random-effects model in the Review Manager software. We also performed subgroup analyses according to the initial risk of adverse effects related to poor weight control. We performed sensitivity analysis to assess the robustness of the findings.

Main results: We included 65 RCTs, out of which 49 RCTs involving 11,444 women contributed data to quantitative meta-analysis. Twenty studies were at moderate-to-high risk of bias. Study interventions involved mainly diet only, exercise only, and combined diet and exercise interventions, usually compared with standard care. Study methods varied widely; therefore, we estimated the average effect across studies and performed sensitivity analysis, where appropriate, by excluding outliers and studies at high risk of bias.Diet or exercise, or both, interventions reduced the risk of excessive GWG on average by 20% overall (average risk ratio (RR) 0.80, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.73 to 0.87; participants = 7096; studies = 24; I² = 52%). This estimate was robust to sensitivity analysis, which reduced heterogeneity, therefore we graded this evidence as high-quality. Interventions involving low glycaemic load diets, supervised or unsupervised exercise only, or diet and exercise combined all led to similar reductions in the number of women gaining excessive weight in pregnancy.Women receiving diet or exercise, or both interventions were more likely to experience low GWG than those in control groups (average RR 1.14, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.27; participants = 4422; studies = 11; I² = 3%; moderate-quality evidence). We found no difference between intervention and control groups with regard to pre-eclampsia (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.16; participants = 5330; studies = 15; I² = 0%; high-quality evidence); however, maternal hypertension (not a pre-specified outcome) was reduced in the intervention group compared with the control group overall (average RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.96; participants = 5162; studies = 11; I² = 43%; low-quality evidence).There was no clear difference between groups with regard to caesarean delivery overall (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.03; participants = 7534; studies = 28; I² = 9%; high-quality evidence); although the effect estimate suggested a small difference (5%) in favour of the interventions. In addition, for combined diet and exercise counselling interventions there was a 13% (-1% to 25%) reduction in this outcome (borderline statistical significance).We found no difference between groups with regard to preterm birth overall (average RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.22; participants = 5923; studies = 16; I² = 16%; moderate-quality evidence); however limited evidence suggested that these effect estimates may differ according to the types of interventions, with a trend towards an increased risk for exercise-only interventions.We found no clear difference between intervention and control groups with regard to infant macrosomia (average RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.02; participants = 8598; studies = 27; I² = 0%; high-quality evidence), although the effect estimate suggested a small difference (7% reduction) in favour of the intervention group. The largest effect size occurred in the supervised exercise-only intervention group (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.64 to 1.02; participants = 2445; studies = 7; I² = 0%), which approached statistical significance (P = 0.07). Furthermore, in subgroup analysis by risk, high-risk women (overweight or obese women, or women with or at risk of gestational diabetes) receiving combined diet and exercise counselling interventions experienced a 15% reduced risk of infant macrosomia (average RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.00; participants = 3252; studies = nine; I² = 0; P = 0.05; moderate-quality evidence)There were no differences in the risk of poor neonatal outcomes including shoulder dystocia, neonatal hypoglycaemia, hyperbilirubinaemia, or birth trauma (all moderate-quality evidence) between intervention and control groups; however, infants of high-risk women had a reduced risk of respiratory distress syndrome if their mothers were in the intervention group (RR 0.47, 95% CI 0.26 to 0.85; participants = 2256; studies = two; I² = 0%; moderate-quality evidence).

Authors' conclusions: High-quality evidence indicates that diet or exercise, or both, during pregnancy can reduce the risk of excessive GWG. Other benefits may include a lower risk of caesarean delivery, macrosomia, and neonatal respiratory morbidity, particularly for high-risk women receiving combined diet and exercise interventions. Maternal hypertension may also be reduced. Exercise appears to be an important part of controlling weight gain in pregnancy and more research is needed to establish safe guidelines. Most included studies were carried out in developed countries and it is not clear whether these results are widely applicable to lower income settings.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Counseling
  • Diet*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Overweight / complications
  • Overweight / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Weight Gain*