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College of Science and Mathematics

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Cal Poly-UNC Online Program Improves Weight Loss After Childbirth

Suzanne PhelanAn online weight loss program led to significant weight loss in low-income, at-risk mothers during the year following pregnancy, according to a study by Cal Poly kinesiology Professor Suzanne Phelan and Deborah Tate of the University of North Carolina published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“If we can curb weight gain during this time, we might help prevent complications during a next pregnancy and reduce obesity and related risk factors throughout women’s lives,” Phelan said.

Nearly one in four women in the U.S. 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, low-income women.

Phelan and Tate’s work aims to change that, and the results of their initial study are promising.
The researchers designed an internet-based weight loss program as an addition to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. This federal assistance program, also called Women, Infants and Children’s program (WIC), assists pregnant women, women who have recently given birth, infants, and children under the age of 5. Participants are required to meet income guidelines, show proof of state residency and be considered a “nutritional risk.”

The research program — Fit Moms/Mamas Activas — included a website with weekly lessons, instructional videos, a web diary, automated responses based on participants’ progress, text messages and monthly face-to-face groups at the WIC clinics.

The study included 371 women who were randomly selected from the WIC program.

Participants in the online program lost an average of seven pounds compared to two pounds for those who received only the standard WIC care, the study found. In addition, one in three women, or 33 percent of the intervention group, returned to their pre-pregnancy weight by the end of the year, compared to 19 percent of the mothers receiving standard care.

“What's exciting about the Fit Moms/Mamas Activas program is that it worked. 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 the program was designed in collaboration with WIC, which reaches about 2 million U.S. women each month and almost 6 million children.”

The researchers next plan to investigate the cost-effectiveness of integrating Fit Moms/Mamas Activas into the WIC program.

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