BMI an inaccurate tool for pregnancy: nutritionist

ALL pregnant women who present to Hervey Bay Hospital with a Body Mass Index above 40 are advised to transfer to a Brisbane-based facility or Nambour Hospital to give birth.

But nutritionist and health writer Honor Tremain said BMI was not a true indicator of a person's body composition and did not show the difference between fat and muscle.

"I don't feel BMI is an accurate measurement," she said.

Queensland Health's policy is for women who have a BMI above 40 - for example, 180cm tall, weighing 130kg - to be transferred to a hospital with a "level five" maternity service because regional hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with possible complications.

A Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service spokesman said Hervey Bay Hospital family unit's first priority was the health and wellbeing of mothers and the 1000-odd babies born in the unit each year.

"Any transfer decisions by maternity staff are based on concerns for the health and wellbeing of expectant mothers and their babies," he said.

"Pregnant women with a Body Mass Index greater than 40 experience complications that may affect their pregnancy.

"These complications can include high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, low birth weight or high birth weight babies, preterm births, and other health concerns for both mother and child."

Ms Tremain said it was highly offensive for a woman often already struggling with a changing body to be told her BMI meant she needed to give birth elsewhere.

She said it would be better for the government to have a program to teach woman how to eat healthily, rather than just label them obese.

Ms Tremain said BMI was only an indicator of the whole weight compared to height.

"I just feel like it's a very inaccurate tool to use," Ms Tremain said.

Queensland Health chief nursing and midwifery officer Dr Frances Hughes said women with a BMI above 40 risked pre-term births, defects, depression, reduced ability to breastfeed and either high or low birth weights.

She said delivering pain relief via epidural or anesthetic was made more complicated.

In 2013, 52 pregnant women with a BMI above 40 were transferred to Brisbane hospitals from parts of regional Queensland.

Dr Frances said this was due to "complications relating to their pregnancy, rather than their weight".

Body Mass Index

  • Used to give an idea whether someone is underweight, overweight or an ideal weight for their height
  • A healthy BMI for an adult is between 20 and 25
  • BMI does not differentiate between body fat and muscle mass

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