Online program improves weight loss after childbirth

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and co-authored by UNC Lineberger member Deborah Tate, PhD, communicated the results of an internet-based weight loss program in low-income women in the year after giving birth. By helping new mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weights, they hope to lower their risk for obesity and chronic diseases, such as cancer.

Online program improves weight loss after childbirth click to enlarge Deborah Tate, PhD, is a UNC Lineberger member and a health behavior and nutrition professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Media Contact: David Pesci, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu

A study by a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher and collaborators found that an Internet-based weight loss program led to significant weight loss in low-income women during the year following pregnancy.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was senior authored by UNC Lineberger member Deborah Tate, PhD, who is also a health behavior and nutrition professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The study was led by Suzanne Phelan, PhD, a kinesiology professor at California Polytechnic State University.

“If we can help new moms return to their pre-pregnancy weight, we may be able to prevent complications in future pregnancies and reduce their risk for obesity and chronic diseases,” Tate said.

An estimated 25 percent of women in the United States retain more than 10 pounds of their pregnancy weight and gain additional weight the year after they give birth. Postpartum weight retention is more common among low-income, Hispanic women, and few programs have effectively addressed this challenge for multicultural women with low income.

Tate and Phelan’s work aimed to change that, and the results of this initial study were promising. The researchers designed an internet-based weight loss program as an addition to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The bilingual program — called Fit Moms/Mamas Activas — included a website with weekly lessons, a web diary, instructional videos, computerized feedback, text messages and monthly face-to-face groups at the WIC clinics.

Among the study group of 371 women from the WIC program, those randomly assigned to the internet program fared significantly better at the end of one year. Women in Fit Moms/Mamas Activas lost an average of seven pounds compared to two pounds for those who received standard WIC care. In addition, 33 percent of women in the intervention group returned to their pre-pregnancy weight by the end of the year compared to only 19 percent of women receiving standard WIC care.

“What’s exciting is that our primarily online behavioral weight loss program helped women lose weight, maintain weight loss and get back to pre-pregnancy weight,” Phelan said. “It’s also exciting that Fit Moms/Mamas Activas was designed in collaboration with WIC, which reaches about two million U.S. women each month and almost six million children.”

“By using the internet and collaborating with WIC, we may ultimately be able to reach more women in need of postpartum weight loss,” Tate added.

Next steps for the researchers include investigating cost-effectiveness and ways to permanently integrate Fit Moms/Mamas Activas into the WIC program.

The full article, titled “Effect of an Internet-Based Program on Weight Loss for Low-Income Postpartum Women,” was published online June 20 by JAMA. An accompanying editorial was co-authored by Wanda Nicholson, MD, a member of the Gillings School’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center.

Tate also is director of the Gillings School’s Communications for Health Applications and Interventions Core. Another co-author from UNC is Karen Erickson-Hatley, MPH, a project manager in the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and member of Tate’s weight research lab.