Neighborhood Walkability, Perceived Stress and Telomere Length: Is there a relationship?

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The Ohio State University

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Purpose and Background. Pregnant Black women are more likely to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods (i.e., vacant housing) and have higher levels of perceived stress compared with pregnant White women. Living in disadvantaged neighborhoods has been related to biological markers of stress including shorter telomeres, tandemly repeated nucleotide repeat sequences (TTAGGG) at the end of the chromosomes, among non-pregnant Black women. This pilot study examined the associations among neighborhood walkability, perceived stress, and telomere length among pregnant Black women. Theoretical framework. The Theory of Allostatic Load states that chronic cumulative exposure to stressful situations results in alterations of biological processes and ultimately increase risk for adverse health outcomes. Method. This pilot study includes pregnant Black women (n=61) who participated in a larger prospective study that examined the role of maternal factors on birth outcomes among Black women. Eligibility criteria included: self-identified as Black or African American, age 18-45, singleton pregnancies, <30 weeks gestation, read/write English. Women completed the Neighborhood Walkability Scale and the Cohen's Perceived Stress Scale between 19-29 weeks gestation. Telomere length was analyzed from salivary samples using the monochromic multiplex quantitative polymerase chain reaction (MMP-qPCR). Descriptive statistics were used to describe the sample. Pearson's r correlation coefficient was used to examine the associations among variables. Results. Women had a mean age of 26.5±5.8 years (range 18-40). The majority of women graduated high school or had technical/vocational training (57%), were single (56%), had household income < $20,000 (56%), and were employed (54%). Women reported moderate levels of neighborhood walkability (23.1±4.2) and moderate levels of perceived stress (18.7±6.9). Telomere length had a mean of 1.25 ±0.23 (range 0.83-1.83). Women who reported higher levels of neighborhood walkability reported lower levels of perceived stress (r=-.40, p<0.01) and had longer salivary telomeres (r=.29, p<0.05). Perceived stress was not related to telomere length (r=-.21, p=.097). Maternal age was not related to neighborhood walkability, perceived stress, or telomere length. Conclusions. Higher perceptions of neighborhood walkability were related to lower levels of stress and longer salivary telomeres among pregnant Black women. It is important to assess pregnant Black women's perceptions of their neighborhoods and stress as well as consider primary prevention strategies.



African American, pregnancy, disparity, birth outcomes