Is "Eating for Two" Really a Good Idea?


have to admit something here. I enjoyed both of my pregnancies, and one of the many reasons was because I thought, “I don’t have to excuse myself for having seconds on any meals, snacks, and desserts for the next 9 months… I’m eating for two!” I seriously loved those few weeks of over-eating before my doctor quickly brought me down to earth with a stern warning: I should do my best not to eat more than 300 extra calories per day. Talk about realization setting in… one extra yogurt per day wasn’t all that exciting. But, I’m glad they were serious about it as I ended up only gaining about 30 pounds with each pregnancy.

While my doctor’s logic was that a larger baby would mean a higher risk of having a c-section, it turns out there are other reasons not to follow the “eating for two” old wives’ tale.

A recent study in Arkansas asserts that excessive weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk of obesity in children. The study measured the body mass index (BMI) of 41,133 mothers at the birth of their children (91,045 total), and then followed their children’s BMI through the age of 12.

“From the public health perspective, excessive weight gain during pregnancy may have a potentially significant influence on propagation of the obesity epidemic,” says the study’s senior author David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

This latest study on obesity extends results of an earlier study that Ludwig led, which showed that excessive weight gain in pregnancy increased the birth weight of the infant. The effect of maternal weight gain apparently continues through childhood and accounts for a difference of half of a BMI unit, about 2 to 3 pounds, between children of women with the least to the most pregnancy weight gain. Only mothers who had more than one child could participate in the study, so as to rule out other confounding factors such as genetics and environment.


“Excessive pregnancy weight gain may make a significant contribution to the obesity epidemic,” says Ludwig. “Children born to women who gained excessive amounts of weight—40 pounds or more—during pregnancy were 8 percent more likely to be obese,” says Ludwig. This risk, though relatively small on an individual basis, could translate into several hundred thousand cases of excess childhood obesity worldwide each year.

Ludwig states, “It is quite extraordinary when you think about it; the effects during pregnancy can potentially have a lifetime implication.” But here’s the light at the end of the tunnel: ”Pregnancy presents an attractive target for obesity prevention programs, because women tend to be particularly motivated to change behavior during this time.”