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Molly Waring, PhD
June 23, 2017

UMass Medical School researcher studying whether Facebook can help with postpartum weight loss

  • Medical School
Molly Waring, Ph.D., awarded $750,000 grant to investigate social media intervention

Can a social media tool such as Facebook be used to deliver a postpartum weight loss intervention? UMass Medical School scientist Molly Waring, Ph.D., thinks it’s possible, and with a $750,000 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, will test the concept with a three-year pilot randomized controlled trial.

“The postpartum period—for women who are having their first or their fifth child—is a time when it’s particularly challenging to carve out time to focus on one’s own health and it’s a great time to help women make healthy choices that can have a ripple effect on their children and families,” said Dr. Waring, assistant professor of quantitative health sciences.

Waring and her team hypothesize that delivering a good lifestyle intervention via Facebook will be similarly effective to delivering the same intervention during regular in-person group sessions. Offering a weight loss program via Facebook would allow women to participate on their own time, which may work better logistically for many women. In addition to having a similar impact on weight loss, Waring hypothesizes that this approach will be more cost effective than having women come to a center weekly for multiple weeks.

Previously, Waring completed a pilot study of the Facebook intervention that showed women, on average, lost 4.8 percent of their body weight in 12 weeks and 58 percent lost at least 5 percent, which is considered a clinically significant weight loss.

“We were able to engage women throughout the 12 weeks. It was a very successful pilot study, but we don’t know what would have happened if they weren’t part of the Facebook intervention. With this new study, we’ll have a comparison group, randomizing women to Facebook intervention versus in-person intervention,” Waring said.

This fall, the research team will begin recruiting women who are eight weeks to 12 months postpartum. The study will include a group of women who will be part of a private Facebook group and a separate group of women who will participate in in-office intervention sessions for 90 minutes once a week. Women in both groups will receive the same weight loss intervention.