Showing ‘empathy for the moms’

The Healthy4Baby initiative coaches minority mothers in healthy eating.

Teeah Mccall participated in Healthy4Baby after giving birth to her daughter Kristiana in 2013. Mccall lost nearly 25 pounds. | MARGO REED TTN

Sharon Herring nicknamed her youngest daughter “Yum Yum.” From a young age, her year-and-a-half-old daughter has interrupted her professional work with childhood activities like singing and dancing.

“It’s so funny,” said Herring, an associate professor of medicine at Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education. “She’s looking in the mirror and singing for herself.”

But as distracting as parenthood can be, Herring’s studies have been equally fueled by her two young daughters. She said she has always been interested in work aimed at improving the lives of mothers and their families, and having children of her own gave her “much more empathy for the moms.”

“After you go through motherhood and child-rearing, you are sort of like,‘Oh, I know what you’re going through,’ kind of thing, but I always say that I know that my life is very different from the women that we treat,” Herring said.  “My economic and educational opportunities are real benefits, and our experiences are very different.”

In 2013, Herring led the first phase of a pilot program called Healthy4Baby, a pregnancy intervention study that looked specifically at the needs of 18 minority women in North Philadelphia during their pregnancies. The Healthy4Baby project encourages healthy weight gain during pregnancy by following the team’s research-based recommendations and health coaching, which are based on guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine.

The second phase of Healthy4Baby launched in April 2013. It was a mobile health intervention that used text messaging and health coaching via phone and Facebook regarding suggested diet changes and increased physical activity to assist postpartum weight loss.

Teeah Mccall, a participant in the second phase of Healthy4Baby, was recruited after giving birth to Kristiana, her youngest of four children, at Temple University Hospital in 2013.

Mccall lost nearly 25 pounds.

“I feel like [Healthy4Baby] met my needs because my health coach was very knowledgeable and really understood and cared,” Mccall said.  “It wasn’t just some script. She would seek out things for me to try differently as well.”

Mccall said that growing up, her family never saw high blood pressure, diabetes and other weight-related health effects as a big problem. Living with a Southern family, Mccall said she  felt pressured to eat unhealthy foods.

“Sometimes within families, they even get a little insulted if you aren’t eating those unhealthy foods,” Mccall said. “When I was going through the program I had to start being like, ‘I can’t have that, no I’m not going to eat that, no thank you to this, no thank you to that,’ and unfortunately [my mother] took that as disrespect, all because I wanted to be a healthier me.”

“We really want to know the feasibility and accessibility of intervening for these urban, low-income African-American mothers in a research-based way, in a way that has shown to have some efficacy,” said Jane Cruice, a registered nurse at the School of Medicine and a peer coach throughout the projects.

Cruice and Herring said they hope that improving the health of mothers during and after their pregnancies will have a ripple effect on the health of their children, too.

“I think anyone working in public health would say that if you can impact the matriarch, you clearly would hope it would have the effect that most things do,” Cruice said. “Moms are sort of like the head of the household in a lot of ways when it comes to the children and the nutritional content of their shopping cart.”

“The thing is, if I’m cutting down on my junk and grease … that lifestyle change was for my whole family,” Mccall said. “Us as a whole.”

Jenny Stein can be reached at

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