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Can a mobile app help women stay healthy during pregnancy?

Kaiser Permanente investigator receives $3 million from NIH to study gestational weight gain


Monique hedderson headshot
Monique Hedderson, PhD, research scientist with the Division of Research

Most women gain weight while pregnant, but if they gain too much they are at greater risk of gestational diabetes and other pregnancy complications, particularly if they are overweight or obese at the start of pregnancy. A Kaiser Permanente researcher has received $3 million from the National Institutes of Health for a 5-year project to test whether a mobile phone app could help overweight and obese women avoid excess weight gain while pregnant.

The project is headed by principal investigator Monique Hedderson, PhD, from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. She previously collaborated with Assiamira Ferrara, MD, PhD, also of the Division of Research, on several successful lifestyle interventions for high-risk pregnant women. One of these, the Gestational Diabetes Effects on Moms (GEM) trial, had positive findings published in Diabetes Care in 2016 and 2018.

Hedderson was encouraged by evidence these lifestyle interventions were effective. In prior studies such as GEM, women received telephone coaching and/or in-person visits and close tracking of their diet and exercise. She wondered if offering a mobile app could expand the number of women who could participate in the intervention. By keeping their weight down they could avoid pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-term birth, all of which have long-term health implications for the child.

“The mobile app is easily accessible on women’s phones, and they can use it when it’s convenient for them,” Hedderson said. “We know what works — self-monitoring of weight, diet, and exercise. We just want to extend what we’ve learned to more women.”

Hedderson developed a mobile phone application using a Kaiser Permanente Delivery Science Grant. With the new NIH funding, Hedderson and colleagues will study the app in a cluster randomized controlled trial of 56 Kaiser Permanente obstetricians caring for 2,000 overweight and obese pregnant women. They’ll be split into two study groups, one offering usual care and the other providing the mobile app for their patients to track their eating and exercise and receive feedback.

The women will be recruited early in pregnancy and followed through delivery and into the postpartum period to track several outcomes, including the women’s weight gain and their babies’ birthweight and growth trajectory during first year of life.

The study is funded over five years by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.


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