JAMA: UNC-Cal Poly online program improves weight loss after childbirth

June 20, 2017

Dr. Deborah Tate

Dr. Deborah Tate

According to a study in JAMA co-authored by University of North Carolina health behavior and nutrition professor Deborah Tate, PhD, and her research partner Suzanne Phelan, PhD, a kinesiology professor at California Polytechnic State University, an internet-based weight loss program led to significant weight loss in low-income women during the year following pregnancy.

“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,” said Tate, who works in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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 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 (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. Tailored to the specific needs of the women it serves, this unique mHealth program also is an example of implementation science at its best.

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.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu