A four-year study coming to an end this year could lead to healthier moms and babies if communities take advantage of what’s learned, a researcher said this week.
The Bassett Mothers Health Project gathered nearly 230 pregnant mothers from Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie and five other counties to gauge the impact of body weight on mothers and their infants.
Good eating habits, exercise and breast feeding for the first six months have been shown to reduce obesity in children and their mothers, and researchers now plan to see how communities can help bring these messages to expectant moms.
Roughly 90 new mothers from throughout the region are participating in the final phase of the study conducted jointly by Cooperstown-based Bassett Healthcare and Cornell University, the hospital announced last week.
Funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bassett Mothers Health Project began in 2005.
“We learned that gaining the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy is really important in terms of a woman being a healthy weight after she has the baby,” said Christine M. Olson, Ph.D., one of the study’s principal investigators.
Olson said women who believe they have to “eat for two” when pregnant are likely overeating, putting themselves and their infants at risk of obesity.
She said pregnant women should increase their food intake by 300 calories, no more.
If pregnant women gain too much weight, their child is more likely to be overweight by an 10 extra pounds at age 3, Olson said.
During pregnancy, women believed they should “slow down,” and that impacts their health and that of their babies as well, she said.
“Right now, in pregnancy, the recommendation for physical activity for pregnant and not pregnant is the same,” Olson said.
Many pregnant women who followed directions from midwives, doctors and newsletters were successful in maintaining a healthy weight before and after pregnancy, she said.
That input reduced the population of women who gained too much weight during pregnancy by 40 percent, Olson said.
During the program last year, she said, intervention included campaigns urging women to eat more fruits and vegetables and take part in family meals.
“Now, we’re working in the community to see what communities can do to make their communities more sort-of friendly or supportive of healthy eating, and healthy physical activity,” Olson said.
Of those who participated last year, she said lower-income women were the most successful.
Mailings included postcards on which participants could ask questions. About 85 percent of those who received the mailings sent at least one postcard with a question.
“I think some of the women, when they went to see their doctors, were so intimidated that they didn’t ask the questions,” Olson said.
“Most health care visits these days have to move right along. There’s not a lot of time to sit around and chat,” she added.
The newest set of 90 mothers participating in the program live in areas where campaigns are ongoing, Olson said.
These campaigns include advertisements and other efforts to promote healthy eating and exercise before and after pregnancy.
The results of this year’s study will be compared with results from women in the study before the campaigns began so researchers can determine if the messages seen on billboards, on radio and TV ads and other media make an impact.
Once complete, Olson said the information will be made available to anybody who wants it.
Aside from promoting healthier women and children, the research could lead to lessening the health care costs on municipalities.
“In New York state it influences local Medicaid spending. There’s no two ways about it, obesity in adulthood is associated with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and all those things have costs associated with them,” Olson said.
People interested in learning more about the research can find information on the Internet at http://www.human.cornell.edu/che/DNS/hsp/.
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