Maternal Use of Weight Loss Products and the Risk of Neural Tube Defects in Offspring: A Systematic Literature Review

Birth Defects Res. 2018 Jan 15;110(1):48-55. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1116. Epub 2017 Oct 12.


Background: Several studies have assessed potential associations between use of weight loss products in the periconceptional period and neural tube defects (NTDs). However, the individual studies are inconclusive and there has not been a systematic review of this literature.

Methods: We conducted a systematic search, using Ovid MEDLINE and PubMed, to identify studies that evaluated the association between products used for weight loss and the risk of NTDs. Because many studies of birth defects only evaluate a composite birth defect outcome, we evaluated studies that defined the outcome as "any major birth defect" or as NTDs. We abstracted data on study design, exposure definition, outcome definition, covariates and effect size estimates from each article that met our inclusion criteria. For studies that evaluated a composite birth defect outcome, we also abstracted the number of NTD cases included in the composite outcome. We used a modified version of the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale to assess the quality of each article.

Results: We screened 865 citations and identified nine articles that met our inclusion criteria. The majority of studies reported positive associations between maternal use of weight loss products and birth defects (overall and NTDs). However, there were few significant associations and there was considerable heterogeneity in the specific exposures assessed across the nine studies.

Conclusion: Our systematic review of weight loss products and NTDs indicates that the literature on this topic is sparse. Because several studies reported modest, positive associations between risk and use of weight loss products, additional studies are warranted. Birth Defects Research 110:48-55, 2018. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: birth defects; dieting; neural tube defects; pregnancy; spina bifida; weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Obesity Agents / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced*
  • Neural Tube Defects / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Loss / drug effects


  • Anti-Obesity Agents