Pregnant women given probiotics and counselling to break cycle of weight problems.

Health researchers are trying to break the obesity cycle in South Auckland, one of the world's capitals of obesity, by targeting pregnant women with probiotics and intensive advice.

The University of Auckland trial is aimed at reducing rates of unhealthy weight gain by mothers, pregnancy-related diabetes and overweight babies. Being overweight at birth can establish a pattern that lasts for life.

The study's leader, Professor Lesley McCowan, said it was aimed at finding diet interventions that might work in South Auckland.

"This is an opportunity to break the obesity cycle during pregnancy."

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The study will assess the effects on healthy, obese women and their babies of consuming probiotics - healthy bacteria - and receiving different kinds of dietary advice.

It arose from the maternity care review in Counties Manukau after the area was found to have New Zealand's highest death rate for babies around the time of birth. Maternal obesity is an important risk factor for perinatal mortality. In Counties Manukau, more than 40 per cent of mothers are significantly overweight when they become pregnant. Eighteen per cent of children are obese in the area, compared with a national average of 10 per cent.

The fetus of an overweight mother is exposed to an excess of nutrients, making it more likely to be born large. The problem is worse in overweight mothers who gain excessive weight or develop gestational diabetes, a complication of pregnancy.

Professor McCowan said the one small randomised, controlled trial done with probiotics plus intensive dietary counselling found a reduction in gestational diabetes of more than 60 per cent. Other, weaker studies had indicated the probiotics being used in the South Auckland trial were associated with weight reduction.

Trial participant Nazrin Nisha, aged 34, is due to have her baby in December and says she is benefiting from the advice.

"I'm eating more veges and less meat. I'm really into veges," the Fijian-Indian said. She has reduced her rice intake from three or four serves a week to one or two, and roti from two to three times a week to once.

She does 30 minutes of exercise at home in the morning, the same in the afternoon, and after dinner she goes for a 20-to-30-minute walk with her partner Rajendra Kumar.

The researchers want more women for the trial. To ask about joining, go to humba.ac.nz

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