Researchers Get $2.7 Million to Study Stress in Latino Babies, Parents


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Researchers at the University of California, Davis, are investigating the unique, daily challenges and stresses that affect young Latino parents and babies in California, thanks to $2.7 million from the National Institutes of Health.

The so-called “California Babies Project” aims to understand how difficult circumstances impact these families.

latino boy toddler reading with mom 2Study leader Leah Hibel and her team will periodically assess stress hormones and chart the emotions of 250 families of Mexican origin in the Sacramento area, according to a news release.

“We want to better understand how stress affects daily parent-child interactions,” Hibel said, “and how that influences a child’s physical and mental health and school readiness.”

The Big Reason for This Study

California is 39% Latino, mostly of Mexican origin.

The migration experience causes increased stress, anxiety, and depression in Latino children, according to a research review by Salud America!.

Before migrating to the U.S., 38% of Latino children are separated from their parents for up to a year and 32% of Latino children are separated for longer than a year. Latino families face economic hardships, difficult travel conditions, and stressful family separations during migration to the U.S. After migrating to the U.S., Latinos are stressed by social status changes, language issues, discrimination, and immigration status questions.

The study aims to determine the affect of these experiences on Latinos.

“Some of the main stressors we will be looking at are fear of deportation, marital issues, discrimination, and socioeconomic status because they are at a higher risk of poverty,” Hibel said.

How Will the Study Work:

The study is a sort of precursor to the “California Families Project,” another UC Davis study that has tracked childhood development in fifth-graders starting in 2006 and continuing through today.

Hibel’s “Calfornia Babies Project” has some big questions, too.

  • What is the impact of stress on children’s development of self-regulation?
  • How do financial pressures, marital challenges, and facing discrimination affect parent/child health?
  • How do daily parent-child interactions influence child developmental outcomes?
  • What makes families resilient in the face of life’s challenges?

To answer these, Hibel’s team will follow 250 families over five years and use both scientific assessments and parental reports to capture the dynamic up-and-downs of parenting.

On one hand, they will monitor sleep patterns and measure the stress hormone cortisol through saliva tests.

On the other hand, they will ask parents to record a daily diary and answer questions about their child’s emotions and behaviors, as well as their own, for four times a day during two weeks at four stages in their children’s lives—at 6 months, 18 months, 3 years and 4 years.

This design helps capture: good times, and the bad; the easy times, and the hard; the joyous times, and the frustrating ones, Hibel said.

“Throughout the day, parents collect saliva on themselves and their children and the team assesses it for cortisol, which can indicate levels of stress in a person’s system,” Hibel said. “We can match diary entries with saliva samples to get a complete picture of parent and child self-regulation in real time. What were you doing at the time? What was your baby doing?”

Hibel hopes the study results will guide interventions to help Latino parents deal with stress.

“When it comes to stress and parenting, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Hibel said. “We hope this research can help ensure all families receive the support they need.”

When it comes to stress and parenting, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We hope this research can help ensure all families receive the support they need.

Leah Hibel
University of California, Davis

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