Lifestyle intervention programs that target diet and exercise habits may help women who experience gestational diabetes retain less weight during pregnancy and reduce their future risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from the Kaiser Permanente Foundation.
The researchers said that the development of gestational diabetes is one of the strongest predictors of a woman's chances of experiencing type 2 diabetes in the future. While reducing the occurrence of the pregnancy complication has been the focus of doctors for years, its prevalence has been steadily rising.
However, lifestyle interventions may help limit the effects of gestational diabetes significantly. The researchers reported in the journal Diabetes Care that a diet and exercise program helped 16 percent more women with gestational diabetes reach their postpartum weight loss goals, compared to those who did not participate in the program.
The intervention program evaluated by the researchers involved asking participants to make dietary improvements and increase their physical activity levels. Throughout the study period, coaches used telephone conferences to make sure that the women were sticking to the plan.
Lead author Assiamira Ferrara, MD, said that it may be easier to start a woman on this type of health regimen while she is pregnant because an expectant mother is likely to have frequent contact with the healthcare system during this time. Using these "teachable moments" may instill lifelong habits that lower women's risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on.
"Women with [gestational diabetes] are concerned about their children's increased risk of adverse health outcomes as well as their own increased risk of diabetes, which can motivate the adoption of preventive behaviors," she said. "Starting an intervention soon after diagnosis of [gestational diabetes] is important."