Body mass index and gestational weight gain in migrant women by birth regions compared with Swedish-born women: A registry linkage study of 0.5 million pregnancies

PLoS One. 2020 Oct 29;15(10):e0241319. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241319. eCollection 2020.


Introduction: Women migrating to high-income countries may have increased risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes as compared with native-born women. However, little is known whether migrant women are more likely to have unhealthy body mass index (BMI) or gestational weight gain (GWG), which is of importance considering the well-established links between unhealthy BMI and GWG with adverse pregnancy outcomes. Hence, the aim of the study was to examine the prevalence and estimate odds ratios (ORs) of underweight and obesity in the first trimester as well as inadequate and excessive GWG across birth regions in migrant (first-generation) and Swedish-born women in a population-based sample of pregnant women in Sweden.

Methods: This population-based study included 535 609 pregnancies from the Swedish Pregnancy Register between the years 2010-2018. This register has a coverage of approximately 90% and includes data on body weight, height, birth country and educational attainment. BMI in the first trimester of pregnancy was classified as underweight, normal weight, overweight and obesity whereas GWG was classified as inadequate, adequate and excessive according to the recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine, USA. BMI and GWG were examined according to 7 birth regions and the 100 individual birth countries. Adjusted ORs of underweight, obesity as well as inadequate or excessive GWG by birth regions were estimated using multinomial logistic regression.

Results: There were large disparities in unhealthy BMI and GWG across birth regions. For instance, women born in North Africa and Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa had 1.40 (95% CI 1.35-1.44) and 2.13 (95% CI 2.03-2.23) higher odds of obesity compared with women born in Sweden. However, women born in Sub-Saharan Africa had also considerably higher odds of underweight (OR, 2.93 [95% CI 2.70-3.18]) and inadequate GWG (OR, 1.97 [95% CI 1.87-2.07]). The limitations of the study include the lack of a validated measure of acculturation and that the study only had data on first-generation migration.

Conclusions: The large differences across the 7 regions and 100 countries highlights the importance of considering birth region and country-specific risks of unhealthy BMI and GWG in first-generation migrant women. Furthermore, inadequate GWG was common among pregnant first-generation migrant women, especially in women born in Sub-Saharan Africa, which demonstrates the need to promote adequate GWG, not only the avoidance of excessive GWG. Thus, our findings also indicate that additional support and interventions may be needed for first-generation migrant women from certain birth regions and countries in order to tackle the observed disparities in unhealthy BMI and GWG. Although further studies are needed, our results are useful for identifying groups of women at increased risk of unhealthy BMI and weight gain during pregnancy.

Grant support

Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (2017-00088 to PH; 2018-01410 to ML). Webpage: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.