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Your Environment. Your Health.

Columbia University Health Sciences


Pam R. Factor-Litvak, Ph.D.

NIEHS Grant: R21ES023582

Major climatic events, such as hurricanes, appear to be increasing due to the consequences of global warming. Such events are likely associated with increased psychological stress. On Oct. 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy, a major hurricane, devastated the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, particularly the New York City/New Jersey area.

Pregnant women are considered a vulnerable population, and there is increasing evidence that acute psychosocial stressors may be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as decreases in birth weight and decreases in gestational length. Further, maternal exposure to stressful events may be associated with decreases in leukocyte telomere length (LTL) in the newborn. Capitalizing on a birth cohort currently being recruited, we propose a study to examine associations between exposure to Superstorm Sandy and pregnancy outcomes and newborn LTL. This study improves on previous studies of natural and manmade disasters because we will be able to parse exposure to specific trimesters and to the three months prior to conception; we have place controls, i.e. a cohort being recruited in an unaffected area using exactly the same measures; we have baseline information on maternal perceived stress, depression, anxiety, social support and resilience, and we have an adequate sample size to address the aims.

Results from this study have the potential to inform emergency responders and clinicians how best to support and potentially mitigate the effects of psychological stress among pregnant women after a major natural disaster. Results will also set the stage for studies to inquire whether prenatal exposure to stressful events is associated with cognitive and behavioral problems in children.

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