Pregnant Women Can Limit Weight Gain with Diet, Exercise, Mobile Apps

A new group of National Institutes of Health-funded trials (LIFE-Moms) shows that pregnant women who are overweight or have obesity can safely limit the amount of weight gain with diet and physical activity interventions.

To achieve the greatest health gains, though, study results suggest that pregnant women may need to begin physical activity and diet changes before or immediately after they conceive.

LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center participated in the trials considered the most extensive set of U.S. trials to target pregnancy weight gain in moms who are overweight or have obesity. The LIFE-Moms trials included diverse socioeconomic groups, which means the findings can be generalized to a large population. The results will be published in the journal Obesity.

Women affected by obesity have the most difficult time controlling their weight gain in pregnancy. Gaining too much weight is associated with many complications for not only the mother but her child as well. “Women affected by obesity have the most difficult time controlling their weight gain in pregnancy. Gaining too much weight is associated with many complications for not only the mother but her child as well,” said Leanne Redman, PhD, professor and head of Pennington Biomedical’s Reproductive Endocrinology & Women’s Health Lab.

“The LIFE-Moms trials hold promise for the importance of improving lifestyle habits such as eating a more healthful diet and avoiding sedentary behaviours to improved rates of weight gain in pregnancy.”

The LIFE-Moms trials involved seven teams of investigators and 1,150 participants. Of those, 579 women had the lifestyle intervention while 571 had standard care. The trials ran from the second trimester to birth. Each trial offered a different lifestyle intervention, but all aimed to improve diet quality and reduce calories, increase physical activity, and incorporate behaviour strategies such as self-monitoring.

Pennington Biomedical performed the only lifestyle intervention trial that used a mobile phone app to help women control pregnancy weight gain. Moms used the app, their mobile phone, a Bluetooth scale and activity monitors to interact with lifestyle coaches.

“Our study, Expecting Success, is important as researchers look to the next series of studies which will aim to reach larger numbers of women and probably remotely — through smartphone or tablets since this avenue is considerably less costly to the health care system,” Dr. Redman said.

Pennington Biomedical’s app could easily be integrated into standard clinical practice, she said.

About 62 per cent of the women in the intervention groups, versus 75 per cent in the control groups, exceeded the National Academy of Medicine recommendations for pregnancy weight gain. The recommended weight gain is 15 to 25 pounds and 11 to 20 pounds with overweight or obese conditions are present, respectively, compared to 25 to 35 pounds for women who are of the normal weight range.

The reduced weight gain — about four pounds per woman — did not lessen the number of obstetrical complications including cesarean sections, diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, or change the average birth weight of the baby.

Dr. Redman said women may need to start changing their physical activity levels and their diets before or immediately after they conceive. “By the time these women enter their second trimester, it may be too late to lower the risk of obstetrical complications,” Dr. Redman said.

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