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2023 Maternal and Child Health Conference: Maternal and Child Mental Health

Maternal and Child Health Conference

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Maternal and Child Mental Health

Mental health of women and children is often overlooked but nearly half of all pregnancy-associated deaths in Arizona are related to mental health conditions or substance use disorders. Most of these deaths are preventable if timely and trauma-informed care are provided. In Arizona, great disparities exist with regard to maternal mental health-related deaths with women from tribal nations experiencing the greatest risk. The 2023 Maternal and Child Health Conference took place on Thursday, April 6, 2023, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. MST (Arizona time) and shared local data and solutions for addressing the complexities surrounding maternal and child mental health and wellbeing.

This interdisciplinary virtual conference brought together providers, researchers and community stakeholders interested in maternal and child mental health. Over the course of one day, attendees came together to further their science and practice addressing determinants of maternal and child mental health at the personal, family, community and environmental level, ultimately helping families thrive in the face of adversity.

We heard from local and state leaders and community members during plenaries, participated in skill-building sessions, and shared our work in this area.

2023 conference topics

The 2023 MCH Conference connected providers, researchers and community stakeholders who work across disciplines to address cross-cutting issues and innovations that improve the health of maternal-child populations and help families thrive.

Learn more about 2023 MCH panelists and presenters:

2023 sessions and speakers

Welcome message and land acknowledgement

  • Corrie Whisner, associate professor and Maternal and Child Health Translational Research Team co-director, College of Health Solutions
  • Cady Berkel, associate professor and Maternal and Child Health Translational Research Team co-director, College of Health Solutions
  • Liza Hita, clinical associate professor, College of Health Solutions

Arizona MCH Title V Block Grant

  • Laura Luna Bellucci, chief, Bureau of Women's and Children's Health; Arizona MCH and Children with Special Health Care Needs director, Arizona Department of Health Services

Early Childhood Mental Health: The Importance of Relationships

  • Molly Strothkamp, child therapist and training coordinator, Southwest Human Development, Good Fit Counseling Center and Harris Institute

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression

  • Jennie Bever, executive director and founder, 4th Trimester

Better Together: Recovery is Possible, and We All Deserve Do-Overs

  • Kate Dobler, State Pilot Grant Program for Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women project director, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System

Supporting Opioid Dependent Pregnancies Through Collective Impact

  • Shauna Anderson, education services supervisor, Hushabye Nursery
  • Michael White, director of community programs, Hushabye Nursery

Words Matter: The Language of Health

  • Susie Leo, parental and child health dietitian, Arizona Department of Health Services

Prescribing Ethics for Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

  • Liz Harrell, clinical associate professor, College of Health Solutions

Poster gallery

Association Between Prenatal Ozone Exposure and Birthweight in Arizona

Megan Witsoe, Creighton University School of Medicine
Candidate of medicine
BS in honors physiology with minor in maternal and infant development

Graphic of the research poster by Megan Witsoe

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This study aims to examine the effect of environmental discrimination, specifically related to ozone pollution on birth weight. The research will highlight the importance of considering both individual and environmental factors in assessing low birthweight risk.

From Womb to World: The Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals on Females and Offspring

Nancy Jackson, Arizona State University
Doctoral candidate in behavioral health
MS in cognitive psychology 

Graphic of the research poster by Nancy Jackson

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Our bodies are sensitive to chemicals that we come in contact with early in life, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many of those chemicals, called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are commonly found in some sources of drinking water and food, as a result of pesticides, while others are found in everyday consumer products and consequently in breast milk. EDCs have been correlated with cognitive, emotional and reproductive behaviors, including abnormal development of hormones in pregnant mothers and their developing fetuses. There is a correlation between EDCs and various specific physical and mental health conditions among pregnant mothers and their developing children, including infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, preterm birth, poor sleep health, fetal neurodevelopment, as well as with early puberty, neurodegeneration and depression. EDCs are especially harmful for fetuses and children because their bodies are still developing and very sensitive to small amounts of these chemicals. Exposure to EDCs can also lead to other health problems with mental health implications, i.e., diabetes, obesity and thyroid disease. Research also indicates increased negative effects of these chemicals in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units population, and in the general population since the COVID-19 pandemic. Join this session to discuss how this pervasive problem is affecting humans in new ways, and find ways to prevent it.

DNA Methylation of Immune Genes is Associated with Chronic Pain in Children

Allison Hays, Arizona State University
Doctoral candidate in neuroscience
BS in neuroscience and psychological sciences

Graphic of the research poster by Allison Hays

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Using a monozygotic twin model, we investigated if chronic pain in children is associated with epigenetic markers of three key immune genes, TNF, IL-6, and CRP. These three genes are markers of inflammation and have been associated with chronic stress and chronic illness. Using a twin model allows the assessment of environmental influences while controlling for genetic confounds. 

Farm to School Prevalence: Do School Characteristics Matter?

Adam Thompson, University of Arizona
Candidate of medicine
MS in health care delivery

Graphic of the research poster by Adam Thompson

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The purpose of this research is to understand the prevalence of farm to school programs in low socioeconomic status schools after the passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act as well as looking at how prevalence changes with various school-level factors. We also want to understand what is being done at the local, state and federal levels to combat lack of access to nutritious foods in schools.

APOE ε4 Predicts Accelerated Cognitive and Brain Aging Outcomes in Older Adults with Autism

Samantha Harker, Arizona State University
Doctoral candidate in neuroscience
BA in medical humanities and English

Graphic of the research poster by Samantha Harker

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental and social communication disorder affecting over 75 million individuals worldwide. Recent research evidence suggests that middle-age adults and older adults with ASD are more likely to be diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease compared to neurotypical adults. Autistic adults have a 2.6 times higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease compared to those without ASD and by 2030, there will be roughly 700,000 older adults diagnosed with ASD in the U.S. To study cognitive aging and ASD, estimates of an individual’s genetic susceptibility to a trait or disease, polygenic risk scores are calculated according to their genotype profile and results from a relevant genome-wide association study. Previous findings found that ASD PRS is related to decreased temporal cortex thickness in neurotypical children.