News & Stories

Building a link between obesity and infertility

Ye He’s research is aiming to help women improve their fertility.

Ye He was working at a medical clinic in China when she realised a lot of women struggling to conceive a child were obese.

It was an observation that led Ye to devote her postgraduate research to establishing a link between obesity and fertility.

Ye is now a PhD student, studying at Menzies Institute for Medical Research, College of Health and Medicine, at the University of Tasmania. Her PhD project is looking at the relationship between childhood obesity and women’s reproductive health.

“We know that adult obesity causes trouble in women’s reproductive health, like heart disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and menopausal symptoms,” Ye said.

With one in four Australian children overweight or obese, there is concern about the long-term effect of childhood obesity and women’s reproductive health.

Ye said despite this, surprisingly few studies have investigated this area.

“At Menzies we are very lucky. We are using data collected in 1985 from girls aged seven to 15 years and we have follow-up data from 2004, 2009 and recently in 2018. 

In one of our studies we found that childhood obesity before the age of 12 may have increased the risk of infertility in women’s later life. This means the prevention of childhood obesity is important for infertility, as well as other diseases.

Ye hopes the findings could help women improve their reproductive health, as well as potentially influence policymakers on issues around health and obesity.

“Once we saw that this link existed, we thought society needs to notice the importance of childhood obesity and we need to let the policymakers know they need to make wise decisions about nutrition and childhood health.”

Ye’s advice to anyone considering a PhD is to have persistence.

Always keep the passion and keep moving on and you will find this process is worth it.

“My supervisors are very professional and supportive, and the skills I’ve learned here will be a great help for my career to be a clinical doctor.”

When Ye isn’t studying, she’s out enjoying Tasmania’s wonderful lifestyle. 

I like to go to the gym nearby Menzies and I also do some bushwalking, jogging and swimming. I really enjoy the life here, and the people here are very friendly and very nice.

Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student.