Physicians could be doing a better job of counseling patients with obesity and overweight on weight loss and fertility. A study of 48 women seeking infertility care at a large academic center found that less than half received advice on weight loss from their primary ob.gyn. prior to referral for infertility treatment.
Patients are thinking about this – many attempt to lose weight independently of support from their health care providers, said lead study author Margaret R. O’Neill, MD, a resident at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester. Dr. O’Neill discussed these results at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s 2021 meeting.
Nearly half of all U.S. women of reproductive age have overweight or obesity, with a body mass index of >25 kg/m2. Menstrual irregularity, ovulatory dysfunction, reduced fecundity, and lower efficacy of infertility treatment are some of the consequences of obesity on fertility, said Dr. O’Neill. Obesity also affects the health of expectant mothers and fetuses, increasing the likelihood of gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, and preeclampsia, and increased incidence of fetal anomalies.
“Unfortunately, even though the prevalence of obesity has been increasing substantially in our country, there’s not excellent rates of this being addressed by physicians,” said Dr. O’Neill. BMI is often left out of documentation and rates of referrals to weight loss specialists are also low.
Conversations have been taking place about IVF centers instituting different BMI cutoffs for certain types of assisted reproductive technology, she noted.
Dr. O’Neill and her colleagues undertook a survey to see what advice community providers were dispensing about weight management on fertility.
Infertility specialists offer the most guidance
The prospective study included 48 nonpregnant women of reproductive age women presenting for IVF who needed an anesthesia consultation because of elevated BMI (> 35) prior to initiation of IVF. Mean age was 36 years and mean BMI was 38.5. More than 70% of the patients were White and they were predominantly English speakers.
All participants had attempted weight loss, including an attempt in the last year, and 93.8% reported trying to lose weight in the last year. On average, patients weighed about 20 pounds less than their heaviest adult weight. Nineteen percent of the participants were at their heaviest adult weight.
While 60% said they’d received weight loss/infertility counseling by any health care provider, just 41.7% reported that their primary ob.gyn. counseled them about weight loss before referring them for treatment. Infertility specialists seem to provide the most assistance: Nearly 70% of the respondents said they’ve been counseled by these providers.
Women with a higher-than-average BMI (39) were more likely to report a referral to weight loss counseling compared with women not referred (37.9, P = .2).
Investigators also asked patients about their knowledge of obesity and its relationship to other health conditions. About 90% understood that infertility and excess weight were related. Overall, they were less sure about the link between obesity and still birth, breast cancer, and birth defects. Only 37% were able to identify a normal BMI range.