UMass Amherst Study Tailors Exercise, Nutrition for Pregnant Latina Women, Aiming to Prevent Adult-Onset Diabetes

AMHERST, Mass. – Over the next five years, 300 Latina women in western and central Massachusetts with a history of diabetes while pregnant will receive personalized exercise, weight loss and other healthy lifestyle support to help them avoid developing type 2 diabetes after they give birth. This is thanks to a $2.56 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases to Lisa Chasan-Taber, professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
 
Chasan-Taber will lead a team to study the effects of individually tailored, culturally matched, healthy lifestyle materials in both Spanish and English on postpartum Latina women with a history of gestational diabetes, a condition triggered by pregnancy that puts them at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.
 
Such a program of supporting healthy behavior is particularly important because 50 percent of Latina women diagnosed with gestational diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five years of their pregnancy, she says.
 
One goal is to help the women build at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity into their routine on most days of the week as part of a more active lifestyle. “We tailor the lifestyle program for women according to their readiness to adopt new behaviors including diet and physical activity. In this way, materials will be relevant to where women are in their lives and therefore will improve the odds of success. We want women to feel supported all through the postpartum period, after they give birth,” says Chasan-Taber.
 
 “Focusing on women who have had gestational diabetes provides us with an excellent opportunity to intervene before the development of type 2 diabetes,” she adds. “After a woman gives birth can be a special time when they may be interested in adopting new behaviors.”
 
Chasan-Taber will work with fellow UMass Amherst researchers including biostatistician Penelope Pekow and kinesiologist Barry Braun, an expert in biomarkers of insulin resistance. They will enroll and follow 150 prenatal care patients from Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and 150 from the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester with a combination of telephone, mail and in-person visits and interviews. Investigators from Northeastern University, UMass Medical School and the University of California at San Diego will also be involved in the intervention.
 
As each woman reaches the one-year mark after giving birth, the UMass Amherst study team will evaluate the impact of the lifestyle intervention on biomarkers of insulin resistance, cardiovascular risk such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels, weight, and physical activity in their lives. This new work builds on two earlier studies led by Chasan-Taber that looked at how physical activity and psychosocial stress affect gestational diabetes risk.
 
UMass Amherst graduate students in epidemiology will take part in data analysis, data management, health interviewing, health education and day-to-day project management for this five-year intervention study, says Chasan-Taber. “They will really learn what it’s like to work in the field in epidemiology.”