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Losing weight may not make women more likely to get pregnant, study finds

While there are health benefits to weight loss, experts say they don’t translate to fertility

Pregnancy and weight loss concept
Photo (c) nensuria - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia Health System explored the role that weight loss plays in women’s fertility

Although losing weight is beneficial for women’s long-term health outcomes, the study findings suggest that it isn’t likely to increase the odds of getting pregnant

“We have known for decades that obese women have difficulty getting pregnant,” said researcher Daniel J. Haisenleder, Ph.D. “For this reason, many physicians advise weight loss prior to conception. However, there are few studies that have addressed the issue comparing a healthy lifestyle – i.e., exercise – vs. exercise plus weight loss.” 

Fertility isn’t affected by weight loss

The researchers had nearly 400 women from nine medical centers across the country who were struggling with obesity and fertility issues participate in the study. The women were divided into two groups: one group increased their physical activity with no goal of losing weight; the second group increased physical activity, had meal replacements, and took medication to help them lose weight. After 16 weeks on these plans, the women received fertility treatments. 

Ultimately, the fertility outcomes were similar for women in both groups. While those in the physical activity group didn’t lose weight over the course of the study, they were equally as likely to give birth as the women who participated in weight loss efforts and successfully lost weight. By the end of the study, 29 of the 191 women in the exercise-only group gave birth and 23 of the 188 women in the weight-loss group gave birth. 

The weight loss program was beneficial for the women’s overall health. The study showed that the women lost an average of seven percent of their body weight by the end of the study. They also experienced a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk for serious health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart attack. 

While infertility struggles didn’t improve with weight loss, the team hopes more work is done to better understand how women may increase their chances of getting pregnant. 

“Weight loss improved metabolic health in these subjects,” Dr. Haisenleder said. “Unfortunately the changes seen did not improve fertility. Infertility within this population remains an important health issue, and will require further studies to address the problem in the future.” 

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