USPSTF to Clinicians: Advise Patients on Gestational Weight Gain

Jeff Craven

May 26, 2021

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended clinicians counsel their adolescent and adult pregnant patients in primary care settings to use interventions to limit excess gestational weight gain.

Counseling pregnant persons on gestational weight gain (GWG) carries a B recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), meaning there is "moderate certainty that behavioral counseling interventions aimed at promoting healthy weight gain and preventing excess GWG in pregnancy have a moderate net benefit for pregnant persons," the task force said in its recommendation statement, which was published in JAMA on May 25.

While the USPSTF has made other recommendations on screening for obesity in adults and gestational diabetes, this is the first recommendation from the task force on behavioral counseling interventions for pregnant persons to promote a healthy weight and limit GWG. The recommendation is important, the USPSTF said, because half of individuals entered pregnancy while either overweight (24%) or obese (24%) in 2015, with the prevalence of prepregnancy obesity higher among Alaska Native/American Indian (36.4%), Black (34.7%), and Hispanic (27.3%) women.

To define gestational weight gain, the USPSTF used National Academy of Medicine recommendations of weight change of 28-40 pounds in the underweight category (body mass index [BMI], < 18.5 kg/m2), 25-35 pounds in the normal-weight category (BMI, 18.5-24.9 kg/m2), 15-25 pounds in the overweight category (BMI, 25-29.9 kg/m2), and 11-20 pounds in the obese category (≥ 30 kg/m2).

Implementations of this recommendation include content with a focus on nutrition, physical activity, lifestyle change, or behavioral change. The counseling should be performed at the end of the first trimester or start of the second trimester and should stop shortly before delivery. "The most common types of behavioral counseling interventions included active or supervised exercise or counseling about diet and physical activity," the USPSTF said.

The average duration of counseling sessions was between 15 and 120 minutes, varying from less than 2 contacts to more than 12 contacts involved in the intervention. Primary care clinicians can deliver these interventions themselves or refer the patient out to an intervention in another setting. "Effective behavioral counseling interventions often referred participants to various interventionists in different settings," such as a local community fitness center, the authors wrote. "Participants were counseled on healthy diet and exercise through individual or group education sessions. Some interventions provided medically supervised group exercise classes with or without counseling."

In their evidence report for the USPSTF recommendation, Amy G. Cantor, MD, of the Pacific Northwest Evidence-Based Practice Center, department of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and colleagues performed a systematic review of 68 studies in the Ovid MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews evaluating the effect of diet, exercise, and/or behavioral counseling interventions for 25,789 pregnant patients with GWG.

The results were current up to February 2021 when the last search was performed. The mean ages of patients across all studies were 18.6 to 33.8 years, and 41% of studies contained patients from "diverse backgrounds."

The results of the systematic review showed use of an intervention to limit GWG decreased the risk of gestational diabetes compared with a control group in 43 trials (relative risk, 0.87; 95% confidence interval, 0.79-0.95), emergency cesarean delivery in 14 trials (RR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.74-0.96), macrosomia in 25 trials (RR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.65-0.92), and large for gestational age infants in 26 trials (RR, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.80-0.99).

There was not an association between GWG interventions and reduced gestational hypertension in 28 trials (RR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.70-1.04), preeclampsia in 27 trials (RR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.84-1.13), and lower risk of preterm birth in 33 trials (RR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.81-1.07), as well as other outcomes such as respiratory distress syndrome, shoulder dystocia, neonatal intensive care unit admission, neonatal death, or infant growth during the first year.

In terms of the types of interventions used, Canton and colleagues found the greatest impact on GWG occurred when a high-intensity intervention with 12 or more sessions was used in 28 trials (−1.47 kg; 95% CI, −1.78 to −1.22) than in moderate-intensity interventions in 18 trials (−0.32 kg; 95% CI, −0.71 to −0.04) and low-intensity interventions in 9 trials (−0.64 kg; 94% CI, −1.44 to 0.02).

Implementing These Interventions Could Be Challenging

D. Yvette LaCoursiere, MD, of the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, Calif., wrote in an accompanying editorial that the USPSTF recommendation supports the recommendation of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) of offering nutritional and exercise-based support for patients with "excessive GWG," but noted that leaving implementation of behavioral counseling interventions to the clinicians "is where challenges lie."

"The USPSTF recommendations will require lengthening already time-constrained prenatal visits or relying on adjunctive professionals," she said.

LaCoursiere highlighted the amount of time the behavioral counseling interventions took to implement, with the shortest intervention lasting 15 minutes. "With the exception of those in group prenatal care practices, clinicians conducting the standard prenatal visit will find it difficult to accommodate moderate- or high-intensity interventions. On a similar note, the topics included in many of the interventions are broad and not necessarily in the purview of clinicians who provide prenatal care," she said.

In addition, behavioral counseling interventions may not be covered by some patients' insurance plans, LaCoursiere explained. "While it is a federal requirement for states to provide pregnant Medicaid enrollees smoking cessation counseling and prescription drugs, there is no such mandate for nutrition or physical activity counseling. Neither is it required that states provide these services to nonpregnant enrollees," she said. "These are not insurmountable challenges, but more groundwork is necessary to ensure an effective and efficient implementation."

Commenting on how a clinician could fit a behavioral counseling intervention into the prenatal care model, LaCoursiere said creativity may be needed. Some researchers in the systematic review used Internet or telehealth-based programs for dietary education, exercise support, health information, and goal setting, for example, which could help with continuity of care during the COVID-19 pandemic. "These types of interventions may help overcome the obstacle of insufficient clinic time by separating the primary implementation phase from the traditional clinical setting," she said.

While the evidence supports the implementation of these interventions, "additional work remains for clinicians and researchers to identify high-yield components and determine best practices for the delivery of GWG interventions," she said.

"The success of this intervention will depend on improving resources for clinicians to facilitate provision of direct counseling or to refer patients to skilled professionals and explore novel alternatives. Promising innovative approaches such as the use of telehealth, technology-based delivery systems, and group prenatal care are under investigation and may expand the ability to successfully implement these recommendations and ultimately improve outcomes for pregnant persons and their infants," LaCoursiere concluded.

This research was funded by contracts from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The authors report no relevant conflict of interest.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.