Weight loss and perinatal depression

Grant Details

Funder: NIMH (MHRN III Feasibility Pilot Program)

Grant Number: U19MH121738

Project Period: 7/1/2021 – 6/30/2022


Background: Rates of overweight (body mass index (BMI)=25.0-29.9kg/m2) and obesity (BMI>30.0kg/m2) among adult American women have continuously increased for the past 20 years, with 41.9% having obesity in 20181. Obesity is a risk factor for adverse outcomes in the 85% of women who become pregnant by age 442. Most women are advised to lose weight prior to becoming pregnant, to help alleviate several pregnancy and postpartum complications3. One of these complications is the development of prenatal and postpartum mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety4. Around 10-25% of mothers will experience depression during pregnancy5 and 10-15% in the postpartum period6. Between 0.9%−22.7% of mothers will experience generalized anxiety disorder during pregnancy7 and 4.4-8.5% postpartum8. Mothers who were overweight or obese at time of pregnancy appear to have higher risk for the development of postpartum depression and anxiety compared to their normal weight counterparts9.

In the general population, losing weight, defined as losing at least 5-10% of one’s body weight10, has produced mixed results in terms of changes in mental health symptoms. Some evidence indicates weight loss is associated with improved depressive11 and anxiety symptoms12, while others have found that weight loss was associated with increased depression symptoms13 and no association with anxiety14. However, no studies have examined how the process of losing weight prior to pregnancy interacts with the development of prenatal and postpartum mental health disorders. There is also evidence that the burden of obesity15 and postpartum depression and anxiety17 is greater in African-Americans and Latina mothers compared to White mothers, suggesting racial identity may moderate the relationship between weight loss and prenatal and postpartum mental health outcomes.

This project is responsive to the NIMH strategic goal “Strengthen the Public Health Impact of NIMH-Supported Research” by identifying specific groups of individuals who may have an elevated risk for developing depression and anxiety, and specific time points (prenatal or postpartum) that may be most vulnerable to psychopathology in a large, population level dataset. By identifying these individuals and timepoints, empirically-supported interventions can be implemented and tested for efficacy in a targeted manner.

Research Question: In a cohort of women 20 to 44 years of age who have obesity and are free of a diagnosis of depression or anxiety for a year prior to pregnancy, this study aims to:

1)            determine if patients who experience successful weight loss (losing at least 10% of one’s body weight) vs. those who do not, in the year prior to pregnancy, have a lower risk for new onset prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety.

2)            Determine if the magnitude of association between pre-pregnancy weight loss and prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety is greater in African-American and Latina women compared to White women.

Methods: The study will pull data from the electronic health record system of a large Midwestern hospital system and create a sample by identifying women of reproductive age (20- 44 years old) who experienced a live birth, and have a weight recorded sometime in the year prior to pregnancy. Case-matched samples will be created based on important demographics, such as insurance status and age, and clinical factors, including BMI at time of pregnancy. These samples will be divided into two groups: those who successfully lost weight prior to pregnancy and those who did not. The research questions will be analyzed using modified Poisson models.

Planned Product: The results of this study will be published and presented at a conference. Findings will provide preliminary evidence to support an R01 submission that will involve multi- HCSRN sites. Aims of the R01 submission will be expanded to examine dose response relationships in baseline BMI and pre-natal and post-partum depression and anxiety disorder and will determine if weight loss thresholds (moving from obese to overweight vs. obese to normal weight) are associated with greater reduction in risk for prenatal and postpartum depression.

Lead Site: St. Louis University (Co-PIs Megan Ferber and Kara Christopher)

Participating Sites: N/A

Current Status:

Summary of Findings: