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Association of Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Offspring Physical Health in Low-Income Families


Objectives The present study sought to examine the association between maternal depressive symptoms and characteristics of offspring physical health, including health status, health behaviors, and healthcare utilization, among low-income families. Maternal engagement was explored as a mediator of observed effects. Methods Cross-sectional survey data from a community sample of 4589 low-income women and their preschool-age children participating in the WIC program in Los Angeles County were analyzed using logistic, Poisson, and zero-inflated negative binomial regression. Mediation was tested via conditional process analyses. Results After controlling for the effects of demographic characteristics including maternal health insurance coverage, employment status, education, and preferred language, children of depressed women (N = 1025) were significantly more likely than children of non-depressed women (N = 3564) to receive a "poor" or "fair" maternal rating of general health (OR 2.34), eat fewer vegetables (IRR: 0.94) more sweets (IRR: 1.20) and sugary drinks daily (IRR: 1.32), and consume fast food more often (OR 1.21). These children were also less likely to have health insurance (OR 1.59) and more likely to receive medical care from a public medical clinic or hospital emergency room (OR 1.30). Reduced maternal engagement partially mediated associations between maternal depressive symptoms and several child health outcomes including poor diet, health insurance coverage, and use of public medical services. Conclusions for Practice Maternal depressive symptoms are associated with poor health among preschool-age children in low-income families. Prevention, screening, and treatment efforts aimed at reducing the prevalence of maternal depression may positively affect young children's health.

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