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Professor Debra Bick awarded £380,000 grant to study postnatal weight control

Posted on 22/10/2015

Debra-BickA grant worth £380,000 has been awarded to Debra Bick, Professor of Evidence Based Midwifery Practice, Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery, King’s College London by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research Programme (PHRP).

The two-year study will investigate if women, who are overweight when they become pregnant (or gain more weight than they need to during pregnancy), could be supported to lose weight after giving birth. This will be the first study to consider a specific postnatal intervention.

The team led by Professor Bick will include staff from St Georges’ University of London, Nottingham University, Lambeth and Southwark Public Health, the National Childbirth Trust. The team are also collaborating with researchers from weight-loss organisation, Slimming World.

Currently, around 40% of UK women are overweight when they become pregnant. These women are more likely to suffer problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure, to have a caesarean section and are less likely to breastfeed. They are also more likely to have ongoing weight problems, increasing the risk of poor outcomes in future pregnancies and of developing long term health conditions such as heart disease.

Babies born to women who are overweight have an increased risk of being larger/heavier at birth, having congenital birth defects, and becoming obese themselves. Developing good quality postnatal advice on diet and lifestyle is an important way of supporting women and their families and may be a more appropriate time to manage weight than trying to intervene during pregnancy. However, it still is unclear how or when to engage women after they have given birth and how best to support them to manage their weight.

Researchers will study if the offer to attend a Slimming World group at any time up to four months postnatally, combined with good quality information on healthy lifestyles is taken up, and if so, to learn the ideal time for starting weight management post-birth. The findings will help determine if running a future larger scale study is likely to succeed.

Professor Debra Bick said; “The early weeks and months following birth may be a better time to offer women access to interventions to help them to manage their weight than interventions during pregnancy. As many of these women may have had more difficult pregnancies, decisions about when to commence health behaviour change should be at a time when the woman chooses and feels ready. The views of women who advised on our study development was that flexible timing of access to local non-NHS weight management groups such as those provided by Slimming World, which offer tailored advice for individuals within a supportive group setting would be viewed positively by postnatal women. However we need to know if it would be possible to do a much larger study in the future to assess the effectiveness of this. This funding will enable us to collect a range of important data, including views of women, to make a decision about a future study. Our study is very timely, with increased recognition of the importance of effective postnatal care, including support for weight management, to potentially improve the life-course health of women and their infants. However, before recommending change, we need high-quality evidence of effectiveness.”

In December, researchers will start recruiting women at 36 weeks of pregnancy from a maternity unit in South London. As well as collating data on the uptake and attendance at Slimming World groups, data on weight management, diet, lifestyle, and infant feeding outcomes will also be collected. Some women will also be asked to take part in interviews with the research team to explore their views of weight management after having a baby. The results will be available in 2018.

Notes to Editor

  1. Professor Debra Bick’s work is also  supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South London at King's College London. For further information, please contact Professor Debra Bick:
  2. This was one of two studies funded as part of a NIHR PHR commissioned call specifically for postnatal intervention studies, so it will be one of the first studies to consider a specific postnatal intervention.  Previous trials have assessed outcomes of interventions during pregnancy such as diet and exercise regimes on outcomes such as gestational diabetes, which did not find any differences in the main outcomes of interest.
  3. The PHRP funds research to evaluate non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. Please visit the website for more information:
  4.  Slimming World, founded in 1969, offers support to members that focuses on the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as recognised behaviour-change techniques for long term lifestyle change. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by overweight people and recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system delivered in a caring and friendly group environment. For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit  or call 0344 897 8000.

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