UC Davis awarded grant to study parents, children of Mexican origin

CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

California Babies Project to study stress in Mexican-origin children, families

Leah Hibel, an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology, and her team have been awarded a $2.7 million grant by the National Institutes of Health in order to study stress and health of Latino families of Mexican origin. By creating a basic understanding of how difficult circumstances affect these families, Hibel hopes to utilize the findings from this research to help address their specific needs.

“We hope to make sure this project is not taking the mindset of our knowledge of our White families when approaching this research,” Hibel said. “Some of the main stressors we will be looking at are fear of deportation, marital issues, discrimination, and socioeconomic status because they are at a higher risk of poverty.”

Hibel explained that the purpose of this research is to understand the unique experiences of Latino families.

Hibel and her research team, consisting of professors, graduate and undergraduate students, will work with about 250 families in Sacramento and Woodland.

Andrea Buhler, a Ph.D. candidate in human development at UC Davis, is part of Hibel’s research team.

“My goal is to support people in achieving greater levels of wellbeing, and effective strategies require scientific research to understand the specific risk and success factors impacting human development in different contexts,” Buhler said. “I identify as Latina, speak Spanish and feel a great sense of purpose and enjoyment in doing this work.”

The research is going to focus primarily on quantitative research aided by qualitative open-ended questions. Biology is also an important component that will be studied.

Cynthia Alvarado-Martinez is an undergraduate lab research assistant in Hibel’s research team. She was also an undergraduate summer research fellow in 2017.

“Research has shown that sleep is an important determinant in mental health,” Alvarado said. “Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to not only adults, but to the wellbeing and health of infants and children. Yet, considering the importance of sleep and the rapidly growing Latino population in California, there is little information on the infant and child development in Latino children.”

While studying these areas of struggle, Hibel hopes to also understand the strengths of these families.

“An exciting component of this research is that we have families collect samples of their saliva so we can measure the hormone cortisol, which is a biological marker of how the body deals with stress,” Buhler said. “Hopefully, we will elucidate the processes of how stress gets under the skin and how it manifests in behavior, social relationships, the development of self-regulation and sleep.”

 

Written By: David Soltero — science@theaggie.org