Accuracy of body mass index in predicting pre-eclampsia: Bivariate meta-analysis

J. S. Cnossen*, M. M.G. Leeflang, E. E.M. De Haan, B. W.J. Mol, J. A.M. Van Der Post, K. S. Khan, G. Ter Riet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the accuracy of body mass index (BMI) (pre-pregnancy or at booking) in predicting pre-eclampsia and to explore its potential for clinical application. Design: Systematic review and bivariate meta-analysis. Setting: Medline, Embase, Cochrane Library, MEDION, manual searching of reference lists of review articles and eligible primary articles, and contact with experts. Population: Pregnant women at any level of risk in any healthcare setting. Methods: Reviewers independently selected studies and extracted data on study characteristics, quality, and accuracy. No language restrictions. Main outcome measures: Pooled sensitivities and specificities (95% CI), a summary receiver operating characteristic curve, and corresponding likelihood ratios (LRs). The potential value of BMI was assessed by combining its predictive capacity for different prevalences of pre-eclampsia and the therapeutic effectiveness (relative risk 0.90) of aspirin. Results: A total of 36 studies, testing 1 699 073 pregnant women (60 584 women with pre-eclampsia), met the selection criteria. The median incidence of pre-eclampsia was 3.9% (interquartile range 1.4-6.8). The area under the curve was 0.64 with 93% of heterogeneity explained by threshold differences. Pooled estimates (95% CI) for all studies with a BMI ≥ 25 were 47% (33-61) for sensitivity and 73% (64-83) for specificity; and 21% (12-31) and 92% (89-95) for a BMI ≥ 35. Corresponding LRs (95% CI) were 1.7 (0.3-11.9) for BMI ≥ 25 and 0.73 (0.22-2.45) for BMI < 25, and 2.7 (1.0-7.3) for BMI ≥ 35 and 0.86 (0.68-1.07) for BMI < 35. The number needed to treat with aspirin to prevent one case of pre-eclampsia ranges from 714 (no testing, low-risk women) to 37 (BMI ≥ 35, high-risk women). Conclusions: BMI appears to be a fairly weak predictor for pre-eclampsia. Although BMI is virtually free of cost, noninvasive, and ubiquitously available, its usefulness as a stand-alone test for risk stratification must await formal cost-utility analysis. The findings of this review may serve as input for such analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1477-1485
Number of pages9
JournalBJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2007


  • Accuracy
  • Body mass index
  • Likelihood ratio
  • Meta-analysis
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Sensitivity and specificity


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