The Role of Maternal Cultural Stressors in Obesity-Related Outcomes at Birth and Four Months of Age

Latinos experience obesity at higher rates than their white counterparts, but the reasons for this disparity are unknown. Latinos, particularly those of Mexican descent, are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States today; therefore, their high rates of obesity are a pertinent United States health issue. The Prenatal Programming Hypothesis and Fetal Origins of Adult Disease Hypothesis (FOAD) suggest that maternal stress experienced during pregnancy is associated with adverse birth outcomes that have been linked to obesity and enduring disease risk in offspring. Less is understood about the types of maternal stressors that contribute to lifelong obesity risk among infants of Mexican descent. Previous works have shown that greater acculturation, a cultural adaptation process, is associated with poorer health outcomes in Mexican Americans, but the potential unique contribution of its related stressors to overweight risk factors in Mexican American infants remains largely unknown. The present study analyzed the effects of acculturation related cultural stressors, acculturative stress and perceived discrimination stress, experienced by Mexican American pregnant women on early life obesity risk factors in their offspring. It was hypothesized that increased cultural stressors experienced by mothers during pregnancy would be associated with offspring’s earlier gestational age, lower weight percentile, lower BMI percentile, and lower head circumference percentile at birth, as well as rapid weight gain rate, BMI gain rate, and head circumference growth rate at 4 months. Cultural stressors were not found to predict infant outcomes. However, greater maternal pre-pregnancy BMI was shown to predict greater infant gestational age at birth, weight percentile at birth, and BMI percentile at a newborn wellness visit. Increased maternal number of previous deliveries was also found to predict decreased infant BMI change at 4 months. Study findings indicate maternal health factors as salient predictors of infant factors related to obesity at birth, within a week of birth, and at 4 months of age and have implications for Mexican American mental health needs. The potential role of acculturation related factors, including cultural stressors, require further study.