Maternal and Child Health

mother and child

Maternal and child public health research is concerned with the health of women, infants, children and families, including adolescents and young adults. The School of Public Health Division of Epidemiology and Community Health focuses on socially vulnerable populations and the environments, behaviors, programs and policies that affect their health and well-being across the lifecourse.

Protecting the health of women and girls of color in sanctuary cities: A public health perspective
Zobeida Bonilla

This project increases awareness of the public health impact that immigration policies have on the health of women and girls of colors, and documents the potential of sanctuary cities as safety nets to ensure the well-being of families and communities. We are focusing on low-birth weight and infant mortality as specific birth outcomes that have been impacted, and we are working directly with organizations serving the Latino community.


The infant development and environment study (TIDES) and environmental influences on child health outcomes (ECHO)
Ruby H.N. Nguyen

TIDES is a multi-center prospective cohort that enrolled pregnant women early in pregnancy and assesses how exposure to phthalate, a commonly found hormone-disrupting chemical, may be related to gender- and sex-related development in childhood ( TIDES also invites families to join the NIH ECHO initiative that aims to study a broad range of environmental factors on child health and development. TIDES contributes to two ECHO cohorts: one focusing on cardiovascular health, and the other on respiratory health.

Read more about TIDES


Development of shelter-based interventions for Asian girls who have experienced violence
Ruby H.N Nguyen

This partnership seeks to explore the intellectual and emotional needs of Asian girls who are living in a temporary shelter as they and their mothers seek safety after facing domestic and/or sexual violence. Trauma-informed trained project staff will discuss with mothers immediate and longer-term self-care strategies for their daughters, and together each staff-mother pair will develop potential short-term interventions and resources that could be made available while in the shelter.


Eating, activity, weight-related problems across the life course of diverse populations
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

This program of research (based largely on the history leading Project EAT study) is funded to the Principal Investigator (Dianne Neumark-Sztainer) as an Outstanding Investigator Award. The award provides seven years of funding and promotes innovation through its flexibility. The study aims to identify key factors that influence weight-related problems during the transition from adolescence to adulthood in order to develop innovative, culturally acceptable, and effective interventions for populations in greatest need.

Obesity and other weight-related problems, including poor dietary intake, inadequate physical activity, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating behaviors are of major public health concern given their high prevalence and serious health consequences. The high prevalence of these problems in young people from low-income and ethnic/racial minority groups is of particular concern and the focus of this program. The goal of this research is to ensure positive weight-related health for all young people — regardless of their backgrounds — with support from their family, friends, schools, worksites and neighborhoods.

Visit the Project EAT website for more information.


Maternal obesity, breast milk composition, and infant growth
Ellen Demerath

The objective of this project is to understand how breast milk is related to mother and infant weight gain and composition. Specifically, the study assess: 1) whether key appetite and satiety regulating hormone levels and adipocytokine levels are altered in the breastmilk of obese women, and 2) whether concentrations of these breastmilk factors are associated with the increased rate of adipose tissue gains seen in offspring of obese mothers. Additionally, the project will examine modifying effects of gestational weight gain and post-partum weight loss on these outcomes and whether maternal diet and exercise during pregnancy and lactation may alter associations.

Read more about this project


Telomore length dynamics in relation to changes in adiposity and metabolic risk
Ellen Demerath

This study examines serial measures of leukocyte telomere length — a biomarker of cellular aging in over 1,700 adults in the Fels Longitudinal Study — to test the cumulative relationship of weight and adiposity gains at different points in the aging life course. Telomerase activity, an enzyme responsible for restoring loss of telomeric DNA, will also be measured in a cross-sectional subset and SNP data will be used to assess genetic associations with telomere length and telomerase activity. Mendelian Randomization and other approaches will be utilized to assess whether identified associations are likely causal.


How do early stressors get “under the skin”: Understanding the mechanisms through which neighborhood and family stressors impact cardiometabolic risk
Simone French and Nancy Sherwood

This study will collect follow-up data on a unique cohort of racially/ethnically diverse, low income children who participated in a two-arm randomized controlled obesity prevention trial. The goals of this study are to:

  1. Characterize the emergence of dysregulation in cardiometabolic processes in this high-risk cohort of children at 7-10 years of age, and
  2. Identify the malleable factors that mitigate the deleterious impact of early environmental stressors on later cardiometabolic risk.


Linking primary care, communities, and families to prevent obesity among preschool children
Simone French and Nancy Sherwood

The Minnesota NET-Works (Now Everybody Together for Amazing and Healthful Kids) study is one of four obesity prevention and/or treatment trials that are part of the Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment (COPTR) Consortium. The goal of the NET-Works study is to evaluate an intervention that integrates home, community, primary care and neighborhood strategies to promote healthful eating, activity patterns, and body weight among low income, racially/ethnically diverse preschool-age children. Critical to the success of this intervention is the creation of linkages among the settings to support parents in making home environment and parenting behavior changes to foster healthful child growth. 2.0: An indicator and policy analysis project to advance a national-to-local child racial ethnic equity agenda
Theresa Osypuk

This translational project will support the second phase of development of, a state-of-the-art research and data indicator project created to advance child racial/ethnic child equity, among policy makers, advocates, researchers and the general public. The project is designed to meet the urgent need for a national, integrated information source that helps us understand:

  1. Who our children are, by documenting and tracking the rapidly changing demographics of children and families in the US;
  2. What our children need, by establishing a system for monitoring not only child outcomes, but also key factors (including opportunities, conditions and resources) that drive child outcomes;
  3. How to improve opportunities for all children, especially those that may need the most help, by focusing explicitly and rigorously on issues of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic equity in child health and wellbeing.

The website provides indicators on children’s well-being based on social determinants of health and health derived from national data, at several levels of geography and by race/ethnicity. It also provides equity policy analyses for policies that support children and families.

The project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and led by Dr. Dolores Acevedo-Garcia at Brandeis University Heller School of Social Policy.


Racism, residential segregation and breast cancer survival disparities among black, hispanic, and non-hispanic white women
Theresa Osypuk

Racial and ethnic disparities in breast cancer survival are significant and persistent, and the size of these disparities varies geographically across the U.S. Racism and racial residential segregation are widely considered to contribute to health disparities and may partially explain geographical variation in the size of breast cancer survival disparities.


Health, neighborhood context, and mobility
Theresa Osypuk

The goal of this project is to understand whether receipt of a housing voucher improved economic and health outcomes among low income families within a residential mobility experiment.


Mediators and moderators of a neighborhood experiment on alcohol use
Theresa Osypuk

This project applies novel methods for mediation and effect modification to understand how a housing voucher experiment influenced the neighborhood and housing environments of low income families. It also studies subsequently affected alcohol use, excessive drinking, and alcohol dependence of adolescents and their mothers.


Linking 1940 U.S. census data to five modern surveys of health and aging
Theresa Osypuk

The goals of this NIH R01-funded proposed research, led by Dr. John Robert Warren at the University of Minnesota Department of Sociology, are to:

  • Link 1940 Census records to five prospective cohort studies;
  • Construct individual-, household/family- and neighborhood-level social and economic variables from 1940 Census records measuring early-life context;
  • Document and disseminate these measures for data users; and
  • Test the validity of retrospectively measured early-life socioeconomic status survey measures by comparing them to the 1940 Census-derived measures.


Building the Minnesota population database
Theresa Osypuk

This pilot project, funded by the University of Minnesota, proposes to create the Minnesota Population Database (MNPDB) to collect, link, and grant controlled access to comprehensive state and federal data on Minnesota residents.

Leadership education in maternal and child public health
Jamie Stang

This program is rooted in the principles of social justice and focused on skills development to serve the programmatic and policy needs of vulnerable populations. Students work to improve the health of women, children, fathers, and families around the world. Their training focuses on public health skills development (program design and evaluation, advocacy, epidemiology) and maternal and child health content (reproductive health, infant and child health, adolescent health, social disparities, family systems and women’s health). This program offers a Master’s degree in Public Health (including an online degree program), continuing professional education, consultation, and technical assistance to community-based organizations and public health and social service agencies.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Obesity in Emerging Adults: Mixed Methods Study
Susan Mason

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including childhood abuse and parental mental illness, affect 60% of emerging adults and are associated with significantly increased risks of obesity and obesity-related disease. Interventions that can reduce the risk of obesity in emerging adults with ACEs would have important public health impacts, but to move toward intervention development and testing, we need to first answer fundamental questions about who should be the focus of intervention, what psychological and behavioral risk factors need to be addressed, and what type of interventions would be acceptable/desirable to emerging adults with ACEs. This research will answer these questions, providing formative knowledge to advance toward optimization and tailoring of interventions to reduce obesity risk in the 18 million emerging adults with ACEs.

Maternal Early Adversities and Weight during Childbearing
Susan Mason

Maternal weight problems during childbearing, including pre-pregnancy overweight/obesity and excessive pregnancy weight gain, represent a significant threat to public health. Women who were exposed to early life adversities (e.g., childhood abuse, neglect, or food insufficiency) appear to be at increased risk for maternal weight problems. This project will investigate the pathways between early life adversities and maternal weight problems to identify modifiable intermediate factors that can be targeted in public health interventions.

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