A New InCHIP PI Is Testing a Postpartum Weight Loss Intervention on Social Media By Beth Krane

New InCHIP Principal Investigator Molly Waring is bringing a postpartum weight loss program to women where they already come together – Facebook.

Molly Waring, PhD (Allied Health Sciences)
Molly Waring, PhD (Allied Health Sciences)

Waring specializes in technology-based weight loss interventions for women of childbearing age. She understands that new moms are extremely busy and don’t always have time for weight loss programs with in-person meetings. Waring also knows that more than 80% of online moms use Facebook, the most popular online social network, and about half of those moms already seek social or emotional support about parenting issues online.

“Delivering our intervention via Facebook allows us to connect with postpartum women where they are, more fully integrating into their lives and daily routines,” said Waring, an epidemiologist and an Assistant Professor of Allied Health Sciences. “A mom in our study may be looking at updates from her high school friends or photos of her sister’s vacation on Facebook, but then she’ll also see a post that says, ‘What’s your plan to be active today?’ or a post starting a conversation about stress management or how to get support from family or friends around lifestyle changes.”

Waring and her collaborator Sherry Pagoto, professor of Allied Health Sciences and Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, joined UConn’s faculty this fall from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Both Pagoto and Waring lead programs of research that merge the most compelling scientific evidence for health behavior change with technology and popular social media platforms to deliver interventions that are effective, convenient, and sustainable.

Waring and her team of researchers, including Pagoto, conducted a successful pilot study of their Facebook-delivered weight loss intervention for postpartum women to see if women would be interested in it and stay engaged. The findings of this pilot study, which will be published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in early 2018, include a retention rate in the 12-week program of 95%, with 100% of women visibly engaging in the last four weeks of the intervention including 42% who engaged on the last day of the study.

Women enjoyed the intervention and achieved results participating in it, Waring reports in the article. More than 80% said they would participate in the program again and recommend it to a friend. Nearly 60% lost at least 5% of their starting weight.

women running on treadmills

Now, with a new three-year grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Waring, the principal investigator, and Pagoto, a co-investigator, will build on their pilot study and conduct a randomized controlled trial involving 72 postpartum women who are overweight or obese and who gave birth 6 weeks to 12 months ago. Participants will be randomly assigned to receive a weight loss program designed for new moms delivered either in a private Facebook group or via weekly in-person group meetings.

All of the women in this trial will receive a lifestyle intervention based on an existing program but adapted for postpartum women, so it covers, for example, the caloric needs of nursing mothers, safe exercises to do in the early postpartum period, and fun ways to exercise with your baby. There will be a topic for each week of the program, ranging from diet and exercise to sleep, social support, and stress management.

Half of the women in the study will attend one 90-minute in-person group meeting with a trained coach each week, and the other half will be part of a private Facebook group in which a trained coach will post information twice a day, which women will see as part of their regular Facebook feeds.

”I’m predicting that women who participate in the weight loss program via Facebook will lose about the same amount of weight as women attending traditional weight loss meetings, but that Facebook delivery will be more convenient, cost-effective, and sustainable,” Waring said. “And that ultimately gives our Facebook-delivered intervention an edge in terms of potential for impacting women’s lives.”

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are critical times to change women’s weight trajectories, she said.

As many as half of postpartum women are at least 11 pounds heavier one year after delivery than they were pre-pregnancy. Pregnancy weight gain that isn’t lost after delivery also can lead to obesity for some women. A recent study found that 30% of women who were normal weight pre-pregnancy were overweight at one year postpartum, and 44% of overweight women had become obese.

Waring hopes to ultimately reach as many postpartum women as possible, and delivering the intervention through a widely available social media platform such as Facebook, can help with this goal. In addition to helping women lose weight after having a baby, Waring and her team aim to create a ripple effect that also positively impacts women’s families.

“We’re trying to catch women at a time in their lives when many are already highly motivated to make healthy behavior changes for themselves and their new babies. For instance, some women may give up smoking when they become pregnant,” Waring said. “It’s a great time to help women make choices that result in healthier lives for themselves and for their children.”


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