Early origins of health disparities: Material deprivation predicts maternal evening cortisol in pregnancy and offspring cortisol reactivity in the first few weeks of life
Version of Record online: 6 MAR 2014
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
American Journal of Human Biology
Volume 26, Issue 6, pages 723–730, November/December 2014
How to Cite
Thayer, Z. M. and Kuzawa, C. W. (2014), Early origins of health disparities: Material deprivation predicts maternal evening cortisol in pregnancy and offspring cortisol reactivity in the first few weeks of life. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 26: 723–730. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22532
- Issue online: 23 OCT 2014
- Version of Record online: 6 MAR 2014
- Manuscript Accepted: 8 FEB 2014
- Manuscript Revised: 6 FEB 2014
- Manuscript Received: 21 NOV 2013
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
- Northwestern University Presidential Fellowship
- Wenner Gren Foundation. Grant Number: 8334
- NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant. Grant Number: 7285514
Maternal hypothalamic pituitary adrenal-axis function regulates production of the stress hormone cortisol, which during pregnancy can cross the placenta and have lasting impacts on fetal growth and development. This article provides a preliminary test of the hypothesis that a woman's socioeconomic status (SES) predicts her cortisol during pregnancy and her offspring's cortisol during the early postnatal period among an ethnically diverse sample in Auckland, New Zealand to evaluate whether differences in cortisol contribute to the intergenerational inheritance of health disparities within this population.
Maternal saliva samples were collected at waking and prior to sleep on 2 days in late pregnancy (34–36 weeks gestation; N = 55), and a subset of offspring saliva was collected before (N = 48) and 20 min after a standard vaccination at 6 weeks of age (N = 19). SES was quantified using a locally validated index of material deprivation, the NZ Deprivation Index for individuals (NZiDep).
We found that, after controlling for ethnicity and other covariates, women with higher NZiDep scores had significantly higher evening but similar morning cortisol, consistent with a pattern of chronic strain. Infants of women reporting greater material deprivation had elevated cortisol response to vaccination.
These findings suggest that maternal SES experience impacts maternal cortisol in pregnancy and offspring cortisol reactivity soon after birth, with potential long-term effects on offspring biology and health. Additional research is needed to clarify how biological and behavioral factors in both the prenatal and postnatal period facilitate this relationship. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 26:723–730, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.