Cal Poly professor gets $2.8 million grant for gestational diabetes research

Cal Poly professor Suzanne Phelan has received a National Institutes of Health grant for gestational diabetes research.
Cal Poly professor Suzanne Phelan has received a National Institutes of Health grant for gestational diabetes research.

A Cal Poly kinesiology professor will lead a five-year clinical trial that studies how well recurring gestational diabetes can be prevented through prepregnancy diet and exercise.

Suzanne Phelan, a clinical health psychologist, has received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study that could help prevent severe pregnancy and delivery complications.

Phelan’s work will assess at least 252 female participants who are at risk of contracting gestational diabetes because they’ve already had the condition at least once before during pregnancy.

The study will recruit women from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties — as well as communities surrounding Brown University, which is partnering in the study — who plan to have a baby within the next one to three years.

1-3 years Amount of time before women plan to have baby in order to be part of the study

Gestational diabetes is a condition in which women who haven’t previously been diagnosed with diabetes get unusually high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester.

The health complications with gestational diabetes include the increased risk of problems during delivery, newborns who will be born larger than normal and experience a sudden drop in blood glucose after birth, and babies who may later suffer from diabetes and obesity. Also, a woman with gestational diabetes is more likely to contract chronic Type 2 diabetes and face longterm health consequences.

Complications of Type 2 diabetes include increased risk of heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, kidney disease and other serious medical problems.

Phelan’s study will assess the effectiveness of weight loss, a healthy diet and physical activity on reducing a woman’s risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and the baby’s risk of obesity.

“Obesity and gestational diabetes tend to go hand in hand,” Phelan said. “A healthier weight reduces risks of all kinds of problems.”

Gestational diabetes is more prevalent in Hispanic women, though it’s unclear why, Phelan said.

Obesity and gestational diabetes tend to go hand in hand. A healthier weight reduces risks of all kinds of problems.

Suzanne Phelan, Cal Poly kinesiology professor

Congresswoman Lois Capps will visit the Cal Poly campus Tuesday to meet with Phelan’s group.

“I am so impressed by the state-of-the-art research taking place at Cal Poly on preventing gestational diabetes,” Capps said. “With hundreds of thousands of women diagnosed each year, this research can have a real impact on women and families across the country.”

Women will be paid, on average, $130 for their participation and have access to free diet and exercise programming.

The study will include two types of programs that encourage lifestyle changes.

One is an intensive program of careful monitoring of diet and exercise, in which participants meet weekly for 16 weeks with nutritionists and others to encourage weight loss.

A second program available to participants will entail two visits and offer education on healthy eating, exercise and becoming active.

The study is partnering with several local hospitals and medical providers to offer referrals for the “lifestyle” intervention. Participants include French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria and Community Health Centers, which operates 26 clinics.

“Usually it doesn’t take too much to attract women to a program that offers free diet and exercise advice and lifestyle intervention,” Phelan said.

Anyone interested in enrolling in the program or hearing more information can call the study coordinators at 805-756-5365 or visit

Phelan received a $3 million grant in 2011 from the NIH to conduct research on new ways to help low-income mothers return to their prepregnancy weight within a year of giving birth.