When doctors don’t have time to counsel patients about weight gain during pregnancy, websites and apps with information and tools could be a good option, new studies suggest.
“Pregnant women often ask their health-care providers many questions that they don’t have time to answer. But if providers can say, ‘go to this website,’ then that can be very helpful,” says Christine Olson, professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University.
Olson is senior author of two recent studies on the use of e-health tools by pregnant women. Little is known about who uses these tools and how.
According to several other recent studies, one-quarter to one-half of pregnant women in the US end up 10 pounds heavier one year after giving birth, which increases their risk of future obesity.
In addition, doctors are concerned that women who retain at least 10 pounds from a first pregnancy and become pregnant again are at increased risk of needing a cesarean delivery. Their children also have an increased risk of obesity as they grow up.
Nearly 88% Tried The Site
Olson and colleagues created an integrated mobile phone and website healthy lifestyle intervention. The e-Moms Roc intervention includes health-related articles, blogs, and local (Rochester, New York) resources, as well as interactive features such as a weight gain tracker and tools to monitor physical activity and diet.
The study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research describes a randomized intervention group of 1,014 racially and socioeconomically diverse pregnant women from Rochester. The study grouped women by demographics and weight, and teased out differences in how the women used the web tools.
Close to 88 percent of the women logged onto the website during pregnancy. Among the interactive tools, the weight gain tracker was the most commonly used feature.
Across four demographic subgroups—young black women, heavier black women, Hispanic women, and white women—the most engaged site users tended to be white and higher income, while nonusers were mostly minorities, some of whom were also at higher risk for excessive pregnancy weight gain.
More than a third of the women across all three minority subgroups frequently used the weight gain tracker.
“This intervention does have the potential to reach a large proportion of all of the population subgroups,” Olson says.
‘Wave of the Future’?
The second study, published in Telemedicine and e-Health examines how women used the interventions. All the participants had access to articles, blogs, and other resources, while some participants also had access to the weight tracker and goal-setting tools.
Overall, 80 percent of all the randomly assigned women logged onto the website and used a tool or feature at least twice. Among those with access to all of the website’s features, 70 percent used the weight gain tracker, but only 40 percent used the diet and physical activity goal-setting tools. The results will help researchers predict effectiveness of e-interventions.
“I think the use of the web for health interventions is the wave of the future,” with smoking cessation and weight-control sites already gaining popularity, Olson says.
Both studies received funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.