Researchers at St. Louis University School of Public Health hope to help young women lose weight gained during pregnancy.
Before she became a teen mom, Emma Richardson played high school sports and wore a size 8.
But 27 months after daughter Kayla’s birth, Richardson feels stuck in a size 16 body, forced to wear "older people’s clothes" instead of the hot styles for her generation.
"I feel fat," the 18-year-old high school junior said. "Like a bear in hibernation."
Richardson, 5-feet-4 and 180 pounds, would like to lose weight but said her busy schedule doesn’t allow for basketball or for reading food labels, so her "belly and hips" aren’t budging.
She’d use a gym membership, but can’t afford it. She’d walk, but her urban neighborhood is too dangerous. She’d take her daughter outdoors more often, but Kayla’s asthma keeps them inside during St. Louis’ hot, humid summers.
Richardson also feels tempted by the high-calorie foods the rest of her family eats.
"They’re all eating in front of me," she said in frustration. "My mom will say, ‘That’s all you’re going to eat? Take more.’"
Researchers at St. Louis University School of Public Health hope to help young women like Richardson lose weight gained during pregnancy. The school’s Obesity Prevention Center has a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study how best to do that. Avoiding obesity helps prevent future heart problems, diabetes and some cancers.
The university and its St. Louis-based partner, Parents as Teachers, will launch a five-year study to test the effectiveness of various strategies on 1,900 overweight teen moms in nine states Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Delaware, Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
The strategies combine diet and exercise and emphasize how small changes in behavior can reap big results, said Debra Haire-Joshu, principal investigator and obesity center director.
The study the first of its kind will focus on overweight single moms of all racial groups, ages 15 to 18.
Each woman must be enrolled in Parents as Teachers, an international program that helps educate parents about early childhood development, health and other issues. The parent educators will make additional home visits to help moms change bad diet habits and make healthier choices.