A new study published in Contraception suggests that concerns about gaining weight may impact contraception choices for women.

Penn State College of Medicine researchers reported that overweight or obese women were less likely to use birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives vs. non-overweight or non-obese women.

One of the most common reasons why women discontinue hormonal contraception is weight gain, explained Cynthia H. Chuang, professor of medicine and public health sciences, which may be a factor in the risk of unintended pregnancies.

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Oral contraceptives are not likely to cause weight gain but many women associate increased weight with the birth control pill. In younger women, however, the birth control shot has been associated with weight gain.

To evaluate whether a woman’s weight or perception of weight impacted the type of birth control used, Chuang and colleagues analyzed demographic and survey data of nearly 1,000 privately insured women in Pennsylvania. They were categorized by weight based on body mass index (BMI).

Women who were overweight and obese were more likely to choose long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) and less likely to choose the pill, the shot, the patch, and the ring when compared to women who were not overweight or obese. Specifically 23% of overweight and 21% of obese women used LARCs vs. 6% of under- and normal-weight women. Examples of LARCs include intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the contraceptive implant. LARCs do not contain estrogen, which some women attribute to weight gain.

In addition, overweight and obese women were more likely to use non-prescription methods (eg, condoms, withdrawal, natural family planning) or no method. This data, however, did not reach statistical significance.

Due to the fear of weight gain, overweight and obese women “are choosing both more effective (LARCs) and less effective, non-prescription methods,” noted Chuang. When evaluating women’s perception of weight, the authors found half of the women perceived themselves to be overweight although only ~42% were overweight or obese according to their BMI. The self-perception, however, was not found to affect their choice of birth control.

Findings from the study highlight possible counseling opportunities about LARCs in women who may worry about weight gain when choosing birth control.

For more information visit news.psu.edu.