Photo caption: After a demonstration of the PEA POD, WKU faculty member Rachel Tinius (right) prepares to remove Thaxton Forsythe while his mom, Stacey, watches. WKU and The Medical Center are using the machine to measure body composition in babies. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)
Dr. Rachel Tinius and Caitlin Burklow may be peas in a pod when it comes to the latest research collaboration between WKU and The Medical Center at Bowling Green.
Dr. Tinius and Burklow are young mothers and WKU graduates. And they’re taking leadership roles in utilizing the PEA POD, the centerpiece of a project to improve the long-term health of moms and babies in southcentral Kentucky.
“PEA POD is not a food. It’s actually a machine that we use to assess body composition in babies,” said Dr. Tinius, an assistant professor of Exercise Science in WKU’s School of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport in the College of Health and Human Services.
“When we heard we were going to be able to house the PEA POD here, we were really excited because to us that just means more research and hopefully better outcomes for our moms and babies, which is why we are all here every day,” said Burklow, director of Women & Newborn Services at The Medical Center.
The PEA POD, by Cosmed, provides the most accurate measure of infant body composition available and was purchased with contributions from the Kentucky Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (KBRIN) program, WKU’s Office of Research and Creativity Activity, College of Health and Human Services and the School of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport.
The PEA POD is the first in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and one of only 40 in North America, Dr. Tinius said.
“It’s the gold standard for assessing how much body fat a baby has,” she said.
The PEA POD is being used to support an ongoing research project by Dr. Tinius titled “Physical Activity during Pregnancy: Novel Pathways and Intervention Strategies for Improving Maternal and Neonatal Outcomes.” The research is supported by a KRBRIN IDeA Award.
The PEA POD, which was delivered in late summer, has been used so far to assess three infants of mothers who are part of Dr. Tinius’ research project.
Expectant moms who are participating in the research are assessed at 32 to 39 weeks into their pregnancy. The assessment includes resting metabolic rate, weight, body fat and blood work. The moms also eat a high fat meal to see how they respond and their physical activity and diet are monitored for a week.
“From that information, we get this nice picture of mom and then we do the scan on the baby,” Dr. Tinius said. “From that we can look at does anything the mom did during her pregnancy relate to the outcome in the baby.”
As part of the PEA POD scan, the baby is weighed then placed inside the warm machine for two minutes while the body composition (lean body mass vs. fat mass) is determined through an Air Displacement Plethysmography (ADP) system using whole body densitometry.
“From this we can get valuable information about how potentially mom’s metabolism and mom’s exercise levels during pregnancy how those might then relate to body composition in their babies,” Dr. Tinius said.
A clear cover on the PEA POD allows mom and baby to see each other during the scan. “Newborn babies tend to like being in there,” Dr. Tinius said. “Once the two minutes is over the door pops open and we basically slide the baby back out.”
After the PEA POD is used to scan 10 to 20 infants, Dr. Tinius and her students will be able to analyze that data along with data from the assessments of the moms.
“I’d really hope that we find physical activity positively influences body composition in baby,” she said. “To me that would just be another great reason to suggest to a mom ‘Hey, if you can be active during your pregnancy you’re going to have not only a big influence on yourself and your own recovery and how you feel during your pregnancy and after but on the entire life of your baby.’ ”
Dr. Tinius said assessing body composition is important because “right now we use birth weight a lot of times to predict a lot of outcomes. But just like in your or I if we just use BMI, which is a ratio of weight to length, it wouldn’t be the best way to determine our long-term health risk. “
For example, she said, looking at the BMI of a muscular athlete might suggest they’re obese when they just have a lot of muscle.
“If we’re just looking at birth weights in babies, we might be missing something. Body composition just offers more information about how much fat versus lean mass the baby has. This could potentially be used to modify how they’re fed or maybe some activities that mom can do once they send baby home that could potentially modify outcomes for that baby.”
A long-term goal of using the PEA POD would be to scan newborn babies then follow them as they grow up. “Can we figure out what body composition is ideal for a baby to born with?” Dr. Tinius said. “In order to do that we’d scan a lot of babies then we’d follow them to see which babies end up being overweight or obese or which ones end up having heart disease. That could help inform us on what’s an ideal body composition and then we can start figuring out intervention strategies.
“The ultimate goal is to improve the long-term health of the baby. Also with a lot of our studies we’re interested in the long-term health of the mom. How can we use physical activity and diet potentially to help improve the lives of women and infants in this community?”
For Burklow, as an expectant mom and a Medical Center employee, that’s an exciting prospect.
“I just think this is an exciting time for The Medical Center, another way that we are going to collaborate with Western Kentucky University,” she said. “I’m really hopeful that Dr. Tinius’ research and our collaboration is really going to improve lives with our mothers and babies here in southcentral Kentucky.”
Contact: Rachel Tinius, (270) 745-5026