By David J. Hill
Published January 18, 2024
A UB researcher has received a five-year, $3.4 million grant to begin a study that will examine how parents’ mental health and socioeconomic factors impact health disparities at the very beginning stages of life.
The impacts of health disparities are well known, as a tremendous amount of research has been done showing how these inequities affect people’s health from chronic disease to life expectancy, mostly beginning from childhood and extending throughout an individual’s life.
But health disparities in the U.S. originate as early as the prenatal period. Poverty and discrimination in early life generate disparities in health over the lifespan that become further entrenched through their transmission across generations, says Lina Mu, MD, PhD, principal investigator on the project and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Health Professions.
The project is being funded through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Several Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences faculty members are collaborators on the study.
The UB study aims to fill a gap by investigating socioeconomic and racial and ethnic disparities in children’s health and development from birth through the first year of life.
“Pregnancy is a critical time window, and whatever exposures a mother and child experience during this time can have a significant impact,” says Mu.
The study will also examine the socioeconomic, racial and ethnic disparities in parents’ mental health and environmental exposures; it will investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms through which the parental exposure may impact both maternal health and child development, such as maternal neuroendocrine-immune and metabolic responses during pregnancy.
“Although disparities in health are well documented, the developmental mechanisms that impact disparities at the very beginning of life are not, particularly those that lead to developmental deficits that emerge long before disease states,” says Mu.
The study will enroll approximately 850 pregnant women as early during their pregnancy as possible, but no later than 12 weeks — two-thirds of whom identify as either Black or Latinx — and about 565-600 co-parents, and will follow them and their infants through delivery and the first 12 months of life. Study recruitment is slated to start this spring.
Mu’s collaborators on the study include:
Researchers from Brown University are also part of the study.