Epidemiologist Lisa Chasan-Taber of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a five-year, $3.2 million grant from NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases to use individual coaching and support to help Hispanic women in western Massachusetts avoid obesity during pregnancy and to develop a healthy, active lifestyle.
As Chasan-Taber explains, “Hispanic women are the fastest growing minority group in the United States and are more likely to begin their pregnancies overweight or obese compared to other women, which means they have a higher risk of additional weight gain during pregnancy and associated long-term health problems, such as diabetes.”
“Hispanic women face specific social, cultural, and economic challenges that put them at greater risk,” she adds. “Pregnancy is a critical time for women, affecting their health for years after the birth of their child. Our study seeks to help them learn new skills tailored to their own lives and to move forward with a healthy, active lifestyle.”
Chasan-Taber and a small team of bicultural and bilingual health educators will recruit 300 overweight or obese Hispanic women and randomize them to either a wellness group or a lifestyle intervention group. Women in the lifestyle group will receive counseling during pregnancy to seek the best way for them to increase their daily activity and adjust their diet so they are able to return to a healthy weight. The goal is to tailor a weight-loss plan to the individual woman, so she can lose weight in a way that fits her life.
Each participant’s activity levels will also be monitored at periods throughout the study, using an activity sensor worn on the wrist that records how much physical activity each woman is getting. Participants will also be monitored for early signs of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Women will receive counseling and healthy lifestyle materials for 12 weeks during pregnancy and then for six weeks to six months after they give birth, with follow-ups until the child is one year old. These will allow Chasan-Taber’s team to evaluate each mother’s success in avoiding excess weight gain during pregnancy, reducing the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as the baby’s risk for diabetes and obesity-related health problems.
“In five years we hope to show that the women assisted by our study are better at returning to a healthy weight, and that we are sending them off on a healthy trajectory,” says the epidemiologist. If successful, this cost-effective program could be adopted on a larger scale and potentially help many minority women throughout the country achieve better health and reduce long-term health care costs.
Chasan-Taber will be joined by UMass Amherst co-investigators including kinesiologist and diabetes-and-exercise expert Barry Braun, and biostatisticians Penelope Pekow and Edward Stanek. Other institutional partners in the health-promotion grant are Baystate Medical Center, UMass Lowell and the University of California, San Diego.