Mothers in Motion Program Promotes Healthy Lifestyle

  • Mei-Wei Chang, Ph.D., RN
  • Associate Professor
  • College of Nursing

Young, low-income mothers with young children face challenges in their daily lives that may make a healthy lifestyle seem out of reach, thus increasing their risk of obesity, leading to type 2 diabetes. Dr. Mei-Wei Chang, an associate professor in MSU's College of Nursing, is leading the Mothers In Motion intervention program, in partnership with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and MSU Extension.

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The aim of this project is to help low-income mothers who are overweight or obese improve their health by eating well, being active, and dealing with stress. According to Chang, these women are highly motivated to make healthy lifestyle behavioral changes. "They would love to make changes, but they don't know where to begin. They either don't have access to the resources, or the resources don't fit their needs," she says.

Chang began looking at the issue of post-partum weight gain when she was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison back in 2003. At that time, according to Chang, there was a gap in WIC studies; there were many studies on pregnant women and young children, but not on post-partum, low-income mothers. She was drawn to this group because of her own life experiences. "My mother grew up in poverty in Taiwan, and I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, so I could see how these people struggled," says Chang. "I can connect with them very quickly because I can share my personal stories."

Five Year Multi-Million Dollar Grant from the National Institutes of Health

In 2011, Chang received a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the Mothers in Motion program, a research-based, peer-led intervention that will monitor a health indicator, such as body weight, of 465 young, overweight and obese, low-income mothers aged 18 to 39 years old from five local WIC programs.

The program is based on two interventions. The first intervention uses educational DVDs that feature WIC mothers. To create the DVDs, WIC and MSU Extension staff assisted in identifying about 100 WIC mothers to be screened. Four were selected to be featured in the DVDs. Chang then visited each of their homes for about 4 months to discuss ways to eat healthier, be physically active, and better manage stress. She worked with these mothers at a variety of settings, such as home, local grocery stores, and playgrounds in their neighborhoods. The moms and their kids were filmed throughout this process to create unscripted, true-to-life DVDs that will be viewed by other moms who enroll in the program. According to Chang, "Moms will be able to see how their peers—working with difficult life experiences—are making changes."

In the second intervention, para-professionals from MSU Extension use a motivational interviewing technique to conduct teleconferences for peer support groups. This technique puts the mother in charge of her own health goals and motivates her to make healthy lifestyle behavioral changes.

Long Term Positive Changes

Jennifer M. Berkey, an Extension liaison in the project, describes the Mothers in Motion project as a "cutting edge research study that will glean new strategies to teach nutrition education, as well as new methods for participants to receive peer support."

According to Berkey, "Both of these interventions could yield new best practices on how to get WIC moms to make long term positive changes to reduce weight gain by making healthy food choices and increasing their physical activity."

WIC plays a key role, both in enrolling women in the program, and in participating in a community advisory group. M. Jean Brancheau Egan, a public health consultant manager with WIC, is a consultant to this project, and believes that the program is beneficial to WIC's clients. "The DVDs and teleconferences identify an alternate means to impact positive food, physical activity and parenting behaviors, which leads to better nutrition, and health and well-being outcomes for WIC Moms and their children," says Egan. She further believes that in the future, "the successful methods may be shared with local WIC agencies, Maternal Infant Health Programs, MSUE and local health departments, which may be able to also replicate and implement similar programs."

The Mothers in Motion program is different from other health programs in that every part of the project is community-led. The community partners include several MSU Extension educators and several WIC supervisors/ managers. These partners review the intervention DVDs and provide input periodically while the project progresses. Also, WIC moms are hired to recruit their peers to this project and are also partners in the project. A peer advisory group of 25 - 30 moms is also available to help in the review and evaluation of the DVDs so that the program will continue to be relevant to participants after the grant has ended. "And," Chang adds, "we take their suggestions very seriously because they know what they want."

Chang thoroughly enjoys her work with the WIC moms, and says, "The more I work with them, the more I love them!" If the intervention is successful (completed in 2016), she and her partners hope the intervention will be adopted nationally through WIC, Extension, and other community-based programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity.

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photograph by Derrick Turner, University Relations

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