Professor receives $1.8M to prevent weight gain among overweight pregnant women

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Danielle Symons Downs, associate professor of kinesiology and obstetrics and gynecology, has received a five-year, $1.8-million grant from the National Institutes of Health Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to develop an intervention to reduce gestational weight gain among overweight and obese pregnant women.

"Managing gestational weight gain offers lifelong health benefits to both mothers and their offspring," said Downs. "Because overweight and obese pregnant women often exceed gestational weight gain guidelines and have difficulty with managing weight, there is a critical need to identify effective weight management interventions for this population. An individually tailored intervention that provides support for managing weight gain on a weekly basis and adapts to the unique needs of overweight and obese pregnant women may be a highly promising way to prevent high gestational weight gain."

Downs has integrated methods from the behavioral sciences and control systems engineering to develop an individually tailored behavioral intervention to manage gestational weight gain in overweight and obese pregnant women.

"The intervention has several unique features, including individualized treatment to manage gestational weight gain, a mathematical formula for predicting gestational weight gain and for providing feedback in real-time to adapt treatment as needed, m-health (mobile health) technology to reduce the burden of intensive data collection on participants, and control systems engineering to relate this intensive data and dynamical systems modeling in order to optimize the intervention; in other words, to manage gestational weight gain as effectively and efficiently as possible," said Downs.

Downs and her research team will determine the feasibility of delivering the intervention and validate it before launching a full intervention study. The future intervention will involve delivering a customized intervention plan for each participant to manage gestational weight gain.

"Our goal of optimizing the intervention for each participant is unique," said Downs. "We believe it will have a greater impact than traditional interventions that treat all participants the same regardless of their individual needs. Insight gained from this study and developments in m-health tools and their use in clinical practice will help to disseminate this optimized intervention in the future with the goal of improving maternal and infant health, and impacting obesity development at a critical point in the life cycle."

Collaborators on this project include Daniel Rivera of Arizona State University; Jennifer Savage, of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research, Penn State; Linda Collins of The Methodology Center, Penn State; Richard Legro of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State; Allen Kunselman, of the Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State; Barbara Rolls of the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State; Diane Mitchell of the Diet Assessment Center, Penn State; and Joshua Smyth of the Department of Biobehavioral Health, Penn State.

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Last Updated September 24, 2013