The Intersection of Climate and Culture: A Mixed Methods Study of Seasonal Trends in Birth Weight in Rural Uganda

Presenter: Sarah MacVicar, McGill University

The effects of climate change present an immediate and intensifying threat to maternal and child health, potentially jeopardizing the progress that has been made in both areas through Millennium Development Goal initiatives. However, little research has characterized the specific pathways through which these impacts will manifest on health outcomes in pregnant women and infants. My research addresses a research gap in our understanding of the ways climate change will interact with existing social gradients to affect birth outcomes in a highly vulnerable population.  Using birth record data gathered from a local community hospital in Kanungu District in Uganda, I am conducting a mixed methods study of how weather exposures affect birth weight, with a view to situating these findings in the context of broader climatic changes. I am also examining the extent to which social factors contribute to or mitigate the effects of weather on foetal growth. The quantitative portion of my research models the effects of seasonality on birth weight percentile and proportion of low birth weights, with consideration of key covariates including spatial distribution of cases and socioeconomic status. Qualitative fieldwork is being undertaken to validate these results and relay narratives of birthing culture in the region.  Findings reveal that the timing of meteorological trends may affect the extent to which they impact birth outcomes. Adverse conditions incurred during the third trimester were more likely to result in small for gestational age outcomes. It is hypothesized that this is due to the effects of weather patterns on food availability, seasonal labour, and trends in infectious diseases. Subset analyses suggest that socioeconomic status modifies these effects of seasonality on birth outcomes. These results will help inform climate change adaptation efforts in southwestern Uganda, and hopefully in the wider sub-Saharan African region as well.