Intervention program targets gestational weight gain

Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can have major health impacts for both mother and baby. Penn State researchers are evaluating an intervention program for women who need help managing their weight during pregnancy.

Danielle Symons Downs, professor of kinesiology, and obstetrics and gynecology, and associate director of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, and her research team are studying women in the Healthy Mom Zone Study, an individually tailored, adaptive intervention aimed at helping overweight and obese women effectively manage their weight during pregnancy to reduce the likelihood of excessive gestational weight gain.

“High gestational weight gain can negatively impact both maternal and infant health, causing pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure,” Downs explained. “Past intervention programs have had only limited success in effectively managing pregnancy weight gain among women who are overweight or obese. This is one of the first intervention studies to use an individually tailored, adaptive design — tailored to each woman’s unique needs — to manage weight gain in pregnancy.”

The Healthy Mom Zone Intervention includes education, self-monitoring, physical activity and healthy eating components that adapt in intensity over the course of the program as needed to help women manage weight. The program uses mHealth tools such as Wi-Fi weight scales, wrist-worn activity monitors, and smartphone apps to help regulate behaviors on a daily basis. For this study, 31 pregnant women who were either overweight or obese participated in the intervention from 8 to 36 weeks of gestation. Analysis of the program is ongoing and Downs expects to have final data collection and analyses by the end of the summer.

Results from this study will be useful in designing a larger randomized trial to examine efficacy of this intervention and developing strategies for clinical application. The researchers theorize that providing a more individually tailored and adaptive approach to effectively managing weight gain during pregnancy will be more effective, and this study will inform how the Healthy Mom Zone Intervention can be further adapted to women’s individual needs.

“For example, we may learn from the study findings that some women can effectively manage their gestational weight gain with less intervention, and therefore, we can step down the intervention for them,” said Downs. “Meanwhile, other women may need more intensive treatment and thus, we can step-up the intervention to keep them within their weight goals.”

The researchers hope insight gained from this study will also aide in developing individually tailored, adaptive intervention programs to effectively manage gestational weight gain in clinical practice — so that all pregnant women can be targeted to ultimately improve maternal and infant health outcomes.

Other Penn State researchers on the project include Jennifer Savage Williams, assistant professor of nutritional sciences; Linda Collins, distinguished professor of human development and family studies; Joshua Smyth, distinguished professor of biobehavioral health and medicine; Barbara Rolls, professor and the Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences; Richard Legro, professor of obstetrics and gynecology; Jaimey Pauli, obstetrician-gynecologist; Allen Kunselman, research assistant in the Hershey College of Medicine; Christy Stetter, public health scientist in biostatistics; and Arizona State University faculty member Daniel Rivera, professor of chemical engineering.

Support for this work has been provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health and Penn State’s Clinical & Translational Research Institute.