Tech Tool Tracks Nutrition in High-Risk Pregnant Women

March 30, 2022

Jean Kerver, PhDWhat a pregnant woman eats can affect not only her health, but the long-term health of her child. That is why a new study led by a College of Human Medicine researcher aims to help high-risk pregnant women make healthier choices, including eating more fruits and vegetables.

While many studies examine the link between diet and health, “with this one we’re actually trying to change their diets,” said Jean Kerver, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics who is leading the study. “We’re trying to find ways to help people eat the best diet for optimum health outcomes.”

Women who participate in the study will use a new, online tool called Diet ID to help researchers understand the kinds of food they eat. Diet ID is a Michigan-based company founded with support from Michigan Rise, a subsidiary created by the Michigan State University Foundation to invest in early stage, high-tech businesses.

Rather than asking participants a series of questions, the Diet ID tool allows them to choose between pictures of foods representing what they typically eat, such as pizza and cookies versus salads and fresh fruit. For researchers, the tool generates data, including specific nutrients as well as diet type and a diet quality score.

Kerver said she chose the Diet ID tool because “we needed something that was easy to use yet reliable.”

Women in her study, supported by a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, will use a computer or smartphone three times during their pregnancies to report their dietary intake using Diet ID.

The study not only will gather data about the food choices the women make but will encourage them to eat healthy by providing food for them. Each week, participants will be able to choose a basket of food selected for them (including recipes), a voucher redeemable for fruits and vegetables, or fully prepared meals, such as soups and salads.

For the study, Kerver plans to recruit 250 women facing poverty and other challenges in the Traverse City area.

This is the second study of diet and health Kerver has worked on using Diet ID. The earlier study, based at Henry Ford Health System, is looking for factors that affect the microbes in a pregnant woman’s digestive and vaginal tracts and how that affects her child’s gut microbes and immune system development. This study is particularly interested in factors that may prevent allergies and asthma.

Kerver is leading the diet assessment portion of that study.