School of Nursing receives major NIH funding to unravel The Hispanic Paradox
"Hispanic women who immigrate to the United States tend to have almost the same rate of healthy babies that Caucasian women do, despite poorer socioeconomic conditions," said Jeanne Ruiz, Ph.D., R.N., an assistant professor in the department of family nursing care. "But the higher the integration into the American culture, the poorer the birth outcomes. You would think the Mexican-American women who were educated here, and probably had better access to health care, would have better birth outcomes, but they don’t and that is part of the Hispanic Paradox."
Typically, 8 percent to 9 percent of Hispanic women deliver early, compared to 6 percent to 7 percent of Caucasians. But clinics like Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center in downtown San Antonio see an alarming 19 percent pre-term birth rate among Mexican-American women. The National Institutes of Health awarded Dr. Ruiz a $1.5 million grant to find out why.
"We think there are protective behaviors within the Hispanic culture that are lost the longer a family lives in America," Dr. Ruiz said. "The children who are born in the United States from immigrant families must adapt to American ways, which may be different than their own families’ values and culture. Assimilating into the American culture is stressful, and this stress may be what is leading to such a high rate of pre-term births in these moms."
Dr. Ruiz will study more than 500 Mexican-American women to prove her point.
It will take four years to get the results, but Monica Sauceda can already predict what they will be. Sauceda is a graduate student and a full-time mom. Her son Jonathon, now 8, was born more than a month early. "I thought everything was fine during my pregnancy. At first, doctors didn’t know why he came early," Sauceda said. "But now they think it was because of stress. I was young, only 20, and when I look back, I can’t believe how much stress I had in my personal life."
When Sauceda became pregnant with her second son, she decided to cut back on her workload. Her doctor also referred her to Dr. Ruiz. "I was happy to go," Saucedo said. "Dr. Ruiz asked me about my family life, my financial situation, if I could pay my bills. I knew if I had a problem with anything, she could refer me to someone who could help. It made a huge difference during my pregnancy."
And that is ultimately what Dr. Ruiz hopes to accomplish. "Once we establish links between lifestyle factors, cytokines and hormones, we can develop objective markers and clinical assessments to determine if we need to intervene," Dr. Ruiz said. "My goal is to create interventional and prevention programs for Mexican-American women so we can help prevent early deliveries."
Sauceda applauds the concept. "Women need more support groups. Almost anyone can get pregnant, but not everyone can handle pregnancy," she said. Apparently, Sauceda can. She gave birth to her second son, Jeremiah, a 7 pound, 11 ounce, full-term baby on July 19.
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