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Improving the Health of Low-Income Moms-to-Be and Their Babies

Released: Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Baton Rouge, Louisiana --

Scientists at Pennington Biomedical are launching a new program that they hope will improve lifestyle habits and promote healthy weight gain of low-income mothers during pregnancy.

“Pregnancy is a critical nutritional time point that influences the immediate and long-term health of both the mother and child,” said Dr. Leanne Redman, Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Women’s Health at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, who will lead the research program.

For mothers and children, the ramifications of excess weight gain do not stop with the need for a cesarian section, mothers retaining extra pounds after birth, or babies being born carrying extra fat, Dr. Redman said. Gaining too little or too much weight in pregnancy increases the risks for heart disease and diabetes in the mother and child. 

Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and a practicing OB-GYN, said the health department and Pennington Biomedical have worked together in several ways to improve the health of mothers and children.

“The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a leading research institution in this country and we are honored to partner with them on this important work to improve the health of moms and their babies,” Gee said.

“Pennington Biomedical is focused on finding effective ways to prevent obesity and chronic disease across the lifespan,” said Dr. John Kirwan, Executive Director of Pennington Biomedical. “Dr. Redman’s study holds out the hope of breaking the transmission of obesity from moms to babies, which would give the next generation a chance to be healthier and free of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity-related deadly cancers.”

The program is funded by a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health.  Its goal is to test a new program called Healthy Beginnings - a patient-centered, weight-management program delivered solely through the internet.  Previous research from Redman and her team has shown this approach can help women gain the proper amount of weight while pregnant.

Healthy Beginnings was developed in partnership with the Louisiana Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, WIC participants and community stakeholder groups and will be tested in more than 400 pregnant WIC participants across the state over the next three years.

Dr. Redman said the primary hypothesis is that WIC participants receiving the Healthy Beginnings program in pregnancy will more closely adhere to the 2009 Institute of Medicine gestational weight gain guidelines than WIC participants who follow the standard program provided by WIC.  Dr. Redman said with an improvement in weight gain women receiving the Healthy Beginnings program may also experience other health benefits. 

One of the most exciting aspects of the program is that it is cost-effective to implement and therefore scalable, Redman said. The future goal is to provide low-cost, value-added services to the women and families in the WIC program nationwide.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 63 faculty and more than 20 postdoctoral fellows who comprise a network of 40 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical's more than 450 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.