Health education faculty to explore risks of smoking while pregnant
By Dell Billings
The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded Department of Health and Kinesiology associate professor Dr. Lei-Shih (Lace) Chen a three-year grant totaling $1 million. The grant will develop and promote access to maternal smoking cessation and smoke-free home services among low-income rural smoking pregnant women and smokers in their homes.
Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of health problems in both mothers and babies whether the mother herself smokes, or if she is exposed to secondhand smoke. Evidence also suggests that smoking may lead to higher death rates in infants.
The project focuses on rural areas in Texas, where numbers of low-income maternal women smoking is two to three times higher than the state as a whole. Plans call for delivering a comprehensive smoking cessation program to over 600 maternal women who smoke and others who smoke in their homes, as well as more than 1,300 maternal women who live with a smoker.
Chen and her team will also train 180 health professionals, including physicians, nurses, health educators and community health workers, with the goal of establishing a health professional workforce skilled in maternal smoking cessation in rural areas of Texas.
Chen said she hopes this research will improve not only mortality rates of babies due to the effects of smoking and secondhand smoke, but to the overall health of rural Texas mothers.
Chen’s research focuses on public health genomics, a field of study that assesses the impact of genes and their interaction with the environment, diet and behavior on the health of a population. Her research mainly targets underserved populations.
Due to epigenetic effects, smoking may cause underlying short-term and long-term health issues for babies. As a mother of a child with special needs, Chen said she understands the experience of mothers with children that have health problems, especially mothers living in rural areas which lack resources and support.
“This motivates me to help other mothers,” Chen said. “We should not blame maternal women who smoke or live with others who smoke in their homes; rather, we should establish a supporting system to assist the mothers.”
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