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Study aims to prevent gestational diabetes

Pregnant women who have the disease are at risk for difficult delivery


TESTING, TESTING :  Suzanne Phelan (left) is the principal investigator, Susan Rasmussen (center) is the program nurse, and Anna Brannen is the coordinator of a collaborative diabetes study by Cal Poly and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • TESTING, TESTING : Suzanne Phelan (left) is the principal investigator, Susan Rasmussen (center) is the program nurse, and Anna Brannen is the coordinator of a collaborative diabetes study by Cal Poly and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.

Cal Poly’s kinesiology department and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center’s Sweet Success Program are collaborating on a study delving into new theories about the prevention of gestational diabetes (GDM).

GDM is a form of diabetes that women develop during pregnancy.  Though GDM is a temporary disease that normally goes away after pregnancy, women who have it are at risk for difficult delivery and are 35 to 70 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes within 15 years of the birth of their child. Children born to a mother with GDM are more likely to develop health issues, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The new study, the Gestational Diabetes Prevention Program, begins this month. It will test whether losing weight prior to pregnancy is an effective way to prevent the occurrence of GDM.

“To date there are no studies that have been particularly looking at preventing of GDM with weight loss before pregnancy,” project manager and nutritionist Anna Brannen said. “In preventing it we are looking at preventing problems for the mothers and children.”

The Gestational Diabetes Prevention Program is recruiting participants. The program is looking for overweight or obese women who have either had GDM in their last pregnancy or are at risk of acquiring the disease during pregnancy. Participants must be planning to get pregnant within the next year. Women who had GDM during their first pregnancy are 80 percent more likely to have it in their next pregnancy.

Participants will receive state-of-the-art weight-loss treatment and education at the Creekside Educational Center, across the street from Sierra Vista Medical Center. They will have access to educational support groups and their weight-loss program will be based on research by the Diabetes Prevention Program, using specific calorie and exercise levels.

“The neat thing about the study here in San Luis Obispo is that with the center we’re developing, we have experts in obesity and weight control, physical activity, and nutrition,” kinesiology professor and principal investigator Suzanne Phelan said. “Altogether, we are developing this program to help these women.”

Results will be measured by how much weight-loss participants experience, as well as increases in their activity. The study’s success will depend on whether participants develop GDM in their next pregnancy. The results will help determine how strong the genetic component to GDM is.

“They’re receiving weekly and monthly support groups. They’re receiving education during 21 different sessions. It’s a win-win situation for them and we’re receiving education ourselves on what’s going to work and what’s not,” Brannen said.

The success of the Gestational Diabetes Prevention Program could also bode well for the cost-effectiveness of diabetes treatment if further methods of prevention are discovered.

“If we can prevent diabetes in both the mom and the baby, that’s the biggest cost-saving component of the disease,” Phelan said. “Obesity and diabetes are a huge cost to the country. It does reflect a shift in the model of care—it’s encouraging women to get pre-conception counseling. Usually women get pregnant and then they get a doctor. We’re trying to shift things, showing that before you even get pregnant there are things you need to do.”

Fast facts

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Intern Chris Jagger compiled Strokes&Plugs this week. Send your business and nonprofit news to

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