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Dara Mendez, PhD



Where you live affects your health. Neighborhood environments are important for understanding racial health disparities, especially during pregnancy and birth. Neighborhood environments differ by race and ethnicity in the U.S. For example, harmful air toxins and lead-based paint are more likely to be located in communities of color. Qualities that promote health, like grocery stores and parks, are more likely to be located in White communities. This difference is due to zoning policies and business practices. But many studies don’t ask community members how they think their neighborhood influences their health.      
Recently, researchers from the University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health worked with The Birth Circle. The Birth Circle is a community-based doula program. Community-based doulas are women who received specialized training but who are no health care professionals. They provide pregnancy services, like labor and delivery support. They also educate mothers about childbirth and nutrition. If a mom is having trouble breastfeeding, they offer support and help. The researchers asked mothers and doulas to talk about their views of neighborhood factors and health during pregnancy and birth.  
The doulas and mothers talked about a wide range of neighborhood-related issues that they felt were important for pregnancy and birth. These included good, affordable housing; jobs; grocery stores; parks and access to high quality health care services. The group felt the most important issue was services related to health.     
The group also talked about the relationships between affordable, fun activities in their neighborhood and how they relate to safety. Challenges were also shared about public housing environments for mothers and children. Transportation was thought to be very important to access health care resources. Mothers noted recent public transportation changes that affect how they’re able to access health care and other services.      
“Cost of transportation is one thing,” one mother said. “But, it goes beyond that. Is there actually a bus that goes past your house? In certain neighborhoods, entire bus routes have been cut.”  
The results from this study can be applied in future research. They can also be used for support in making connections between policies and better community programs in housing, transportation, urban development and health.    
For more information about neighborhood environment and pregnancy research in Pittsburgh, please contact Dara Mendez, PhD, assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, at ddm11@pitt.edu or 412-624-3161.

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