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More health visitors needed to reduce maternal obesity, say MPs

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More health visitors and midwives, along with increased training opportunities for them, are required as part of a raft of changes needed to reduce maternal obesity, according to a new report from a group of cross-party MPs.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood made a total of 67 recommendations, including a number specifically aimed at health visitors and midwives, following its investigation into how to tackle the increasing prevalence of overweight women of a reproductive age.

”The entire maternal service workforce is under-resourced, overstretched, under immense pressure”

APPG on a Fit and Healthy Childhood report on maternal obesity

Obesity at this age “can impact the health of at least two generations,” said the report, launched last week.

“It not only affects the woman’s health, by raising her risk of gestational diabetes (and, in the longer term, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease) but additionally places her offspring at risk, particularly of developing childhood obesity and its later consequences - and so the cycle repeats,” said the report.

To improve the situation, women seeking information about planning a pregnancy should get personalised advice about weight gain and this should be measured at antenatal appointments, said the MPs.

In addition, they should be made aware of nutritional and breastfeeding advice by healthcare professionals.

However, the MPs found that “the entire maternal service workforce is under-resourced, overstretched, under immense pressure” while also being and “all too well aware of the negative impact that gaps in knowledge will have upon the quality of support that is offered”.

”[There is a ]lack of confidence and embarrassment of the healthcare professional when faced with raising ‘body weight’ issues with pregnant women”

APPG on a Fit and Healthy Childhood report on maternal obesity

The report called for an increase in the number of frontline staff, noting there was a “significant shortfall” in the numbers of midwives and health visitors currently working in the UK.

It also recommended that all healthcare professionals working with women and families before, during and after pregnancy should be trained in nutrition, including breastfeeding, to help deal with the “lack of confidence and embarrassment of the healthcare professional when faced with raising ‘body weight’ issues with pregnant women”.

Clear UK guidance on appropriate weight gain during pregnancy was also required, said the report.

Meanwhile, pregnant women should be weighed routinely, regardless of their body mass index, as opposed to the current situation in which only obese women are weighed – which adds to stigma, said the MPs.

In addition, the report said healthcare professionals should be able to spend longer with prospective and new parents.

University training should be also be reviewed and healthcare professionals should update their skills regularly as part of continuing professional development, said he MPs.

“In many areas healthcare visitors [already] don’t have time for an antenatal visit”

Obi Amadi

Commenting on the report findings, Obi Amadi, lead professional officer at Unite’s Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, said she welcomed the findings but noted investment would be required in order for health visitors to complete extra checks during pregnancy.

“In many areas healthcare visitors don’t have time for an antenatal visit [because they have some many families],” she said.

Earlier this year, school nurses were given additional training in advising teenagers about nutrition, after it was found staff didn’t have time or the knowledge to give information about healthy eating as part of a programme funded by a charity.

In 2015, another report by the same cross-party group of MPs said that training on nutritional, play and activity advice for pre-school children for health visitors, midwives, should be improved and standardised.

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