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Texas A&M Receives Knapp Foundation Funding to Address Role of Maternal Diabetes and Obesity in South Texas Reproductive Health Outcomes

Poor maternal and child health outcomes near the Texas border have led three researchers from the Texas A&M School of Public Health to seek to develop a community-based outreach program targeting women of reproductive age.

[Photo: Dr. Maria Perez-Patron]

Recently awarded a three-year $349,000 grant from the Knapp Community Care Foundation, researchers will focus on the role of obesity and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), which is glucose intolerance or high blood glucose levels diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. The study will be led by Dr. Maria Perez-Patron, with co-investigators Dr. Genny Carrillo, and Dr. Brandie DePaoli Taylor.

“Late or no prenatal care is almost twice as prevalent in the border region,” Dr. Perez-Patron said. “This can delay the diagnosis and management of gestational diabetes and reduce efforts leading to healthy babies and healthy mothers.”

Researchers will start by completing a community needs assessment among women aged 15 – 44 who live in Mid-Valley communities in the Rio Grande Valley area of South Texas.

“From the information gathered, we will design a culturally-competent lifestyle intervention including counseling on the importance of nutrition, physical activity and breastfeeding to prevent or manage gestational diabetes,” said Dr. Carrillo, who has a long-standing history of working with the South Texas community providing culturally competent education.

“For many women, GDM is the first manifestation of diabetes, which many develop later in life,” Dr. Taylor said. “Hispanic and Asian women are more likely to progress to type-2 diabetes postpartum than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, and their children will also be at a higher risk of developing diabetes.”

Dr. Taylor is the director of the Health Services Research Administration (HRSA)-funded Program of Maternal and Child Health at the School of Public Health.

Reproductive health outcomes among the border population in Texas have been a source of concern since the 1990s, leading to the establishment of the Texas Birth Defects registry. The U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission identified the high prevalence of poverty and lack of access to prenatal care as two of the main determinants of poor maternal and child health outcomes along the border.

“Addressing widespread health problems such as obesity and diabetes by targeting pregnant mothers benefits women and their unborn children from early in the life course and has the potential to positively impact the health of the entire family,” said Dr. Perez-Patron.

“We are so pleased to see support for these activities which further the priorities of the Healthy Texas initiative and can leverage ongoing activities in the area for population health improvements,” said Dr. Marcia Ory, co-director of the Texas A&M Healthy Texas initiative.