Examining the biological mechanisms that influence health

December 14, 2015

healthy foundations studyNurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is a prevention program that starts far earlier than most other public health interventions. It begins before children are even born — ideally by the 16th week of pregnancy. Its aim? To improve the lives of young mothers and their children. To achieve this, public health nurses make frequent home visits, building a trusting relationship with young first-time mothers and supporting them to nurture and protect their children.

NFP’s early start also presents a unique opportunity to study some of the biological mechanisms influencing health, starting even before birth. This is the subject of the Healthy Foundations Study, funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, being led by Andrea Gonzalez (pictured above), assistant professor with the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University. The study is being conducted in collaboration with the Children’s Health Policy Centre at Simon Fraser University – and in collaboration with the BC Ministries of Health and Children and Family Development and BC’s Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities.

Associated with the BC Healthy Connections Project — BC’s scientific evaluation of NFP, funded by the BC Ministry of Health with support from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development — the Healthy Foundations Study is examining biological markers of health outcomes for children over the first two years of life. By collecting hair samples, saliva and cheek swabs from infants and consenting mothers, Gonzalez will be able to track changes in stress responses and the way genes work.

We all encounter mild stressors every day — such as unexpected changes in plans, disagreements with friends, family or co‐workers, or losing something. And we all develop different ways to deal with these stressors. Through the Healthy Foundations Study, Gonzalez is hoping to learn how pregnancy and new motherhood may be stressful to the mothers, and how the babies may respond to this stress. The study is also looking at whether NFP may affect the way that moms and babies cope with stress, and how this may influence later infant development. So this study will compare outcomes for children whose mothers receive NFP coupled with existing services to those whose mothers receive existing services only.

“We think that experiences you’re exposed to as an infant may influence a whole host of health outcomes later on,” Andrea Gonzalez says. And NFP aims to improve outcomes for children, and for their families.

The Nurse-Family Partnership is available only through the BC Healthy Connections Project for the duration of study recruitment. Practitioners or young pregnant women can click here for more information.