Study Co-Authored by UMass Epidemiologists Cited as ‘Women’s Health Issues’ Editor’s Choice

Hispanic women with high levels of stress and anxiety gain less weight during pregnancy, study finds
Megan W. Harvey ‘16 Ph.D. (Left) and Lisa Chasan-Taber
Megan W. Harvey ‘16 Ph.D. (Left) and Lisa Chasan-Taber

Gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy is associated with poor maternal and infant outcomes, but too little research has examined factors affecting gestational weight gain (GWG) in Hispanic women. A new study co-authored by UMass Amherst faculty, which was selected as the Editor’s Choice for the November/December issue of Women’s Health Issues, reports that in a group of predominantly Puerto Rican women, those with the highest levels of stress and anxiety gained less weight during pregnancy than those with the lowest levels.

Epidemiology alumna and former postdoctoral researcher Megan W. Harvey ‘16 Ph.D., now an assistant professor of health sciences at Springfield College, and colleagues including UMass Amherst professor and chair of biostatistics and epidemiology Lisa Chasan-Taber and department faculty members Penelope Pekow and Karen Ertel, used data from the prospective cohort study Proyecto Buena Salud to examine the relationship between stress, anxiety and gestational weight gain. Led by Chasan-Taber, Proyecto Buena Salud enrolled pregnant women with Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry who sought prenatal care in Western Massachusetts. The authors categorized the 1,308 participants into quartiles based on their perceived stress and anxiety scores and found that those with the highest scores in early pregnancy gained 4-5 pounds less during pregnancy than those with the lowest scores. Those with high levels of stress and anxiety in mid/late pregnancy gained 3-4 pounds less.

“These findings provide additional support for conclusions that, for women experiencing chronically high levels of chronic stress and anxiety, the additional stress of pregnancy may lead to diet disturbances and undereating,” Harvey and her colleagues write. “Future research should focus on culturally specific interventions to reduce high levels of stress and anxiety, and should evaluate if changes in GWG associated with stress or anxiety impact subsequent birth outcomes.”

“Given existing research documenting high levels of stress and anxiety in pregnant Hispanic people, it’s important to study the health effects,” said Amita Vyas, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. “These findings make an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between mental health and gestational weight gain and can help drive interventions for healthier pregnancies.”

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the department of health policy and management at Milken Institute SPH.

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