HealthDay News — For certain types of contraceptive methods, perceived weight gain among new users — reported by about one-third of women — often represents actual weight gain, study findings show.

Women who perceived weight gain after starting a new contraceptive gained an average of 8.8 pounds after one year (P< 0.001), Gina N. Secura, PhD, MD, from the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, Mo., and colleagues reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Self-reported weight gain had a 74.6% sensitivity and a 84.4% specificity for identifying actual weight gain, the researchers found.

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“Self-reported weight change is easy to obtain and in most women represents true weight gain,” they wrote. “Understanding that some contraceptive methods have higher rates of perceived weight gain could prove helpful to clinicians when counseling their patients.”

Although previous studies have documented a consistent association between depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) and weight-gain, few have assessed how women perceive the affect of various contraceptive methods on their weight and whether their perception is accurate.

To better understand the utility of self-reported weight gain as a screening tool for actual weight-gain, researchers examined data from 4,133 new contraceptive method users participating in the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, a prospective cohort study to assess the use of long-acting reversible contraception.

Weight change was assessed at three, six, and 12 months via telephone survey and compared with a subgroup of participants who had objective weight measurements taken at baseline and 12 months.

A total of 1,407 study participants (34.0%) perceived weight gain, 1,634 (39.5%) perceived no weight change, and 1,092 (26.4%) perceived weight loss at 12 months. Participants using the implant method (relative risk=1.29; 95% CI: 1.10–1.51) or DMPA (RR=1.37; 95% CI: 1.14–1.64) were more likely to perceive weight gain than copper intrauterine device users.

Average weight change in the subset of women who underwent objective assessment, was a 2.2 pound increase at over 12 month. Among the three perceived weight change groups, those who perceived weight gain, gained an average of 10.3 pounds, whereas those who perceived no weight changed gained 1.5 pounds (P <0.001 for both).

Those who perceived weight loss at 12 months lost an average of 9.5 pounds (P < 0.001).

Among the 114 women who objectively gained 5 pounds or more during the 12-month study period, 85 perceived weight gain. Conversely, among the 167 who did not gain 5 or more pounds, 141 perceived no weight gain.

“It may be useful, as well as simple and cost effective, to have women report perceived weight changes to their primary care provider at regular intervals. This perceived change may be a trigger for an objective assessment,” the researchers wrote. “If validated, the clinician may suggest weight loss strategies or consider screening for diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes or hypertension.”


  1. Nault Am et al. J Obstet Gynecol. 2013; 208(1): 48.e1-48.e8.