Team researches how to prevent weight gain in young mothers

A Colorado State University assistant professor and a team of researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine have the opportunity to further their research on an excess weight gain prevention program in adolescent mothers, thanks to a $27,244 grant from CSU’s Prevention Research Center.

Initially, they were only able to follow mothers through the pregnancy. The grant enables them to collect data three months postpartum.

Lauren Shomaker, assistant professor in CSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, is leading the study of preventing unhealthy weight gain in adolescent mothers in an effort to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Assistant Professor Lauren Shomaker
Lauren Shomaker

Excess weight gain can be a big problem for mothers. Possible adverse health effects include type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. In addition, their offspring are at a higher risk of being born with too much body fat and developing obesity and metabolic problems.

“To our knowledge, there have been no studies focusing on this issue in adolescent pregnancy,” said Shomaker.

Multidisciplinary approach

Shomaker’s team is composed of collaborators from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Along with Shomaker, Professor Linda Barbour, Associate Professor Kristen Nadeau, Associate Professor Jeanelle Sheeder and Associate Professor Stephen Scott use their combined backgrounds in medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, endocrinology and research to conduct their study. Additional scientists with expertise in public health, psychology and exercise science are involved in various components of this project.

The multidisciplinary approach falls in line with the Prevention Research Center’s mission to bring together faculty and researchers from different disciplines to explore and research prevention strategies.

“The nature of the problem that Lauren and her team are investigating requires bringing together scientists with different knowledge and expertise,” said Prevention Research Center Director Doug Coatsworth. “This research team truly exemplifies a multidisciplinary approach and is primed for real innovation.”

All-around care

The study takes place at Children’s Hospital Colorado with the help of the Colorado Adolescent Maternity Program. That program already offers adolescent mothers wraparound care, including psychological and medical services like access to a midwife, social worker, nutrition counseling and more.

The interdisciplinary study takes place at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Pictured here are Bernadette Pivarunas, graduate research assistant and student in the Ph.D. program in Applied Developmental Science, and Yenesia Garcia, professional research assistant in the Department of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Shomaker and her team added an interpersonal psychotherapy component to the care that CAMP currently provides to adolescent mothers. They incorporated teaching interpersonal skills in basic communication, conflict resolution, family relationships and support utilization. The goal is to give adolescent mothers coping mechanisms for underlying stressors that may be causing weight gain from emotional eating or being physically inactive.

By assessing body fat, insulin and blood sugar levels in participants, the team can determine whether the additional skills trainings have the potential to be effective. The grant from the Prevention Research Center specifically allows the team to extend its research beyond the pregnancy, three months postpartum. This gives a more in-depth look at the sustained effects of the incorporated interpersonal psychotherapy after the child’s birth.

Higher-risk groups

Mothers from historically disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups are of utmost importance for interventions because of health disparities in excess weight gain, obesity and diabetes. It makes the most sense to focus on these groups because they are the most underserved.

“Adolescent girls who become pregnant tend to experience higher levels of social stress and trauma than adolescents who don’t become pregnant or compared to pregnant women,” said Shomaker.

Socioeconomic status plays a part, as do the negative stigmas that youth and families from historically disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups continue to face.

“In the U.S., there are around 300,000 live births per year,” Shomaker said. “This number is lower than in previous years. While the overall trend is going down in the U.S., the U.S. continues to have one of the highest teen birth rates of all industrialized countries.”

The lack of effective preventative excess weight gain programs for mothers overall is one issue Shomaker would like to address.

“The current methods are not working for average women, so how can we expect them to work for adolescents?” she said.

The Prevention Research Center is a part of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.