WKU professor developing fitness app for pregnant, postpartum women

Michael Crimmins, Administration reporter

Rachel Tinius, an associate professor of exercise science at WKU, is doing her part to help pregnant and postpartum women remain active.

Tinius is the project lead and CEO of “BumptUp”, a mobile phone app designed to fight obesity.

“There’s lots of fitness apps out there, but pregnant and postpartum women don’t know what to do with them,” Tinius said.

Tinius received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from WKU before going to Washington University in St. Louis in 2011, where she wrote and published her dissertation on pregnant women and physical activity. 

She returned to WKU in 2015, where the idea behind BumptUp began to take root in her mind.

“It was in the back of my mind [then] that I wanted to do interventions at some point,” Tinius said. “The app came out of this idea of, ‘okay I have this magic pill to help all of these things that are causing our maternal morbidity mortality, or at least a lot of the things that are causing it.’ That’s where the idea of the app came from – how do we get women active.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, the United States’ maternal mortality rate for 2020 was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, up from a rate of 20.1 in 2019.

Tinius said this is the fourth year of the app’s development, with the team receiving help from folks like Tinius’ mentor from the University of Kentucky along with WKU students. The app’s development is now aided by Codelab303, based in Denver, Colorado.

The app includes videos of exercises, articles and helpful information for pregnant women. Tinius said the videos, which show pregnant women doing the exercises, were made with the help of students.

“We came up with all the exercises, but again we didn’t make them up,” Tinius said. “A squat is a squat, but we show how to modify it if you have a belly, or if you’re having balancing issues. We put our own spin on every exercise to make it relevant to the population we’re working with.”

An important feature of the app, Tinius said, is that it continues to serve women past delivering the baby.

“So many pregnancy apps, you have the baby and all the attention shifts to the baby,” Tinius said. “Mom has a baby, gets discharged from the hospital and she’s kind of on her own, so that’s one thing that’s been really important to us from the start, making sure we keep mom during that time.”

Tinius said BumptUp is designed to help mothers “transition back to being active” when they are ready to do so.

The Bumptup team has conducted a clinical trial with 38 women, which showed significance, but Tinius hopes to conduct a bigger trial in the summer of 2023 if she can get grant funding.

“It was scored well but I don’t think we’ll get this one,” she said. “We’re probably going to have to resubmit in February.”

BumptUp should be available by the first quarter of next year, Tinius said. For the first week of use there will be a free trial period before users choose between a free version with advertisements or a subscription-based model.

“So many people view [pregnant women] as this vulnerable population […] I view it as an opportunity,” Tinius said. “ These women are motivated by something other than themselves. You tell them ‘what you do now matters for this baby.’ We have studies that show what happens in utero can predict outcomes at 10 years, 12 years, 15 years. But women are super motivated by that. So even if they weren’t someone who cared about activity before, they’re listening now.”

Administration reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the date of a proposed trial. The Herald regrets the error.