The Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) Center for Environmental Health Disparities is beginning their 2023 pilot projects. Through this initiative, the center hopes to advance environmental health disparities research while also increasing representation of members of affected groups in scientific and community-based research.

The one-year research projects support early-career investigators who self-identify as members of an NIH-designated health disparity population, including racial and ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged or rural populations, and sexual and gender minorities.

Max Aung, Ph.D., and Carlos Cardenas-Iniguez, Ph.D.
Aung (left) is an assistant professor of population and public health at the University of Southern California (USC). Cardenas-Iniguez (right) is a postdoctoral fellow at USC. (Photos courtesy of MADRES)

Linking Environmental and Social Factors to Mental Health

Max Aung, Ph.D., and Carlos Cardenas-Iniguez, Ph.D., aim to uncover how environmental and social factors contribute to brain development, depression, and anxiety, particularly among children of immigrant parents.

For their study, Aung and Cardenas-Iniguez are looking at several neighborhood features, including greenspace, access to services, and poverty. They are also integrating air pollution estimates and information on immigration and proxies of acculturation. Ultimately, they hope their findings will inform risk assessments and interventions to improve mental health in historically marginalized communities.


Warehouse Development and Children's Respiratory Health

Nemmi N. Cole, Ph.D.
Cole is a postdoctoral fellow at USC. (Photo courtesy of MADRES)

Nemmi N. Cole, Ph.D., is evaluating the impact of warehouses on children’s respiratory health in the Inland Empire region of Southern California. Inland Empire is home to over 170 million square feet of warehouses. Warehouses and their associated activities, such as transportation, are a major cause of increased traffic congestion, noise, and air pollution.

At Inland Empire, Cole is evaluating the association between racial disparities, warehouse developments, and respiratory health symptoms of elementary school-age children. She also aims to advance environmental health literacy among residents by reporting back results and through education workshops.

Nan Ji, Ph.D.
Ji is a postdoctoral scholar at USC. (Photo courtesy of MADRES)

Neighborhood Socioeconomic Conditions and Disparities in Birth Weight

Nan Ji, Ph.D., is studying the relationship between prenatal exposure to air pollution and adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as low birth weight, particularly for people living in low-income neighborhoods. This is the first study to simultaneously examine the role of prenatal exposure to multiple air pollutants and neighborhood socioeconomical status on birth weight.

According to Nan, evidence of this interaction can guide health interventions to reduce prenatal exposure to air pollutants and mitigate the adverse aspects of neighborhood conditions, ultimately promoting healthy birth outcomes.

Studying Mental Health Among Latina Mothers

Santiago Morales, Ph.D.
Morales is an assistant professor of psychology at USC. (Photo courtesy of MADRES)

Santiago Morales, Ph.D., is examining how interpersonal and sociocultural factors impact Latina mother’s mental health. Postnatal anxiety and depression are common and affect maternal health and the infant’s health and development. Importantly, these conditions disproportionately affect marginalized communities like Latina mothers.

Morales is utilizing a new approach called Ecological Momentary Assessment, which involves repeatedly sampling the behaviors and experiences of 100 Latina mothers and their infants in real time and in their natural environments. He hopes this approach will help by identify early risk and protective factors, such as family dynamics and discrimination, that impact mothers from marginalized communities.