UMass Researcher Examines How Physical Activity Affects Gestational Diabetes in Hispanic Women

AMHERST, Mass. - A University of Massachusetts epidemiologist is conducting research into the relationship between physical activity and the risk of gestational diabetes in more than 2,200 Hispanic women in western Massachusetts. The work is funded by a $400,000 four-year grant from the American Diabetes Association.

Lisa Chasan-Taber, an assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass, has also received a separate two-year, $150,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a new physical activity questionnaire. It will provide researchers with a better idea of the duration, frequency, and intensity of total physical activity, including household work, recreation, and work, in each trimester of a woman''s pregnancy, Chasan-Taber says.

Beginning this month, Chasan-Taber and a team of interviewers will ask 60 Hispanic prenatal-care patients per month at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield about their level of activity at home, at work, and during sports and exercise. Chasan-Taber says Hispanic women were chosen for the study because gestational diabetes occurs two-to-four times more often in this group compared to non-Hispanic, white women. Gestational diabetes is the most common medical complication of pregnancy and is defined as glucose intolerance that is first detected during pregnancy.

"It is well-recognized that women with a physically active lifestyle are less likely to develop adult-onset diabetes. Therefore, there is a strong rationale to suspect a relationship between physical activity and a woman''s risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy," Chasan-Taber says. "To date, this relationship has remained relatively unexplored."

Development of the new questionnaire will also take place at Baystate Medical Center. Beginning in August, about 25 prenatal-care patients per month from the general population will be asked about a wide range of physical activities, including household chores and childcare. Researchers will also measure the actual metabolic effect of these activities and the combined findings will be used to create a more refined tool for researchers, Chasan-Taber says.

Chasan-Taber says understanding the effect physical activity has on pregnant women is important because it is a factor that women can control. Currently, the relationship between physical activity and the incidence of maternal or fetal disorders is not well understood, she says.