Examining the effects of cumulative environmental stressors on Gulf Coast child and adolescent health

Gabriella Y. Meltzer, Alexis A. Merdjanoff, Shu Xu, Robyn Gershon, Christopher T. Emrich, David M. Abramson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines how community-level cumulative environmental stress affects child and adolescent emotional distress and chronic health conditions both directly and indirectly through stressors at the household, family, and individual levels. Data comes from the Women and their Children’s Health (WaTCH) Study, which sought to understand the health implications of exposure to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DHOS) among a cohort of 596 mothers with children ages 10 to 17 in southeastern Louisiana. Community-level environmental stress was measured using a newly developed geospatial index. Household-level stressors included previous hurricane impacts, impacts of DHOS, degree of financial difficulty, and degree of housing physical decay. Family stressors included maternal depression, self-rated physical health, and degree of parenting stress. Child stress was based on perceived stress; child mental health was based on serious emotional disturbance; and child physical health was based on diagnosis of chronic illness. Structural equation modeling used weighted least squares means and variance and theta parameterization. Results showed a significant negative direct path between community-level cumulative environmental stress and child/adolescent serious emotional disturbance and chronic illness. However, the indirect relationship through household, family, and individual-level stressors was significant and positive for both child/adolescent serious emotional disturbance and chronic illness. These findings point to the centrality of the household and family in determining child and adolescent physical and mental health outcomes in communities exposed to frequent disasters and ongoing environmental stressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalPopulation and Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Child and adolescent health
  • Cumulative environmental stress
  • Family stress
  • Gulf Coast
  • Resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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