Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UNC Study: Online Program Improves Weight Loss After Childbirth

According to a study in JAMA co-authored by Dr. Deborah Tate, an internet-based weight loss program led to significant weight loss in low-income women during the year following pregnancy.

Dr. Tate, professor of health behavior and of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, co-authored the study with Dr. Suzanne Phelan, professor of kinesiology at California Polytechnic State University.

[Photo: Dr. Deborah Tate]

“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,” Dr. Tate said.

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 effectively have addressed this challenge for multicultural women with low income.

Dr. Tate’s and Dr. 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,” Dr. 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,” Dr. 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 article, “Effect of an Internet-Based Program on Weight Loss for Low-Income Postpartum Women,” was published online June 20 in JAMA. An accompanying editorial was co-authored by Dr. Wanda Nicholson, a member of the UNC Gillings School’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center.

Dr. Tate also is director of the Gillings School’s Communications for Health Applications and Interventions Core. Another co-author from UNC is Ms. Karen Erickson-Hatley, a project manager in the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and member of  Dr. Tate’s weight research lab.