Researchers aim to curb unhealthy weight gain in pregnant women using technological tools
24 Sep 2018 --- With proper nutritional guidance and technological tools, it is safe and feasible to restrict weight gain in obese pregnant women, a Northwestern Medicine study has found. The “novel” study, coined MOMFIT (Maternal Offspring Metabolics: Family Intervention Trial), was the first of its kind to include a commercially available smartphone app in the weight-loss approach, according to the research team.
Being obese or overweight during pregnancy can result in serious health problems for the mother and child yet obstetricians are often reluctant to recommend restricted weight gain for pregnant women due to safety concerns for the baby and a lack of tools to safely guide women in their weight control efforts. During pregnancy, weight gain is anticipated and appropriate, but it should be curtailed in overweight and obese women.
The study, to be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, included novel modern approaches. This involved nutritional counseling on a healthy diet, the use of a commercially available smartphone diet app and ongoing coaching via the phone and online in approaching the pregnant participant’s weight-loss.
The obese and overweight women in the study gained five pounds less during their pregnancy than those in the control group and, importantly, their babies were born in the normal weight range. The participants largely followed a DASH-style (Diet Approach to Stopping Hypertension) diet. The women were also encouraged to participate in light exercise.
“It was technologically convenient yet strategic and nutritionally individualized. MOMFIT took a precision medicine approach to healthy eating utilizing a commercially available product,” says lead study author Linda Van Horn, Professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“We need to help these [overweight and obese] women, who make up the majority of pregnancies in the US, leverage this unique opportunity during their pregnancy to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle plan that they can follow throughout pregnancy and, hopefully, post-partum.”
“These results show promise in harnessing modern technology to help a mom achieve those goals,” she adds.
The majority of US women of reproductive age are overweight or obese, and the risk of excess gestational weight gain is higher for them than women of healthy weight. Among the risks for women and their babies: diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension and birth defects.
“MOMFIT demonstrates the feasibility of counseling pregnant women in healthy diet and lifestyle behaviors through nutrition coaching using modern technology,” says Van Horn. “Applying this approach in a clinical setting could help women achieve recommended weight-gain goals during pregnancy and improve postpartum lifestyle behaviors for the whole family.”
Will MOMFIT kids have less risk of developing obesity?
“The next big question is whether the children born to moms who restricted their weight gain will have a reduced risk of becoming obese themselves compared to children whose moms were in the control group,” says Van Horn.
Children born to overweight and obese moms have more than a 50 percent chance of becoming overweight themselves. If both parents are overweight or obese, this risk can increase to more than 70 percent, according to epidemiological data.
The difference in the children's obesity risk won't be evident until they are three, four and five years old, which is when weight trajectories start to separate. Van Horn and colleagues have recently launched a new study - KIDFIT - to monitor the children of the women in her MOMFIT study and determine whether prenatal and/or postpartum diet and lifestyle counseling can help these children lower their risk of obesity.
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