In her role as a pediatric psychologist at UMCH, Maureen Black, Ph.D., has spearheaded and contributed to numerous research projects. The primary focus of her research has been on the role of nutrition in the growth, development and behavior of children from low-income families.
Black has conducted long-term studies of babies who don't grow normally (failure-to-thrive). She has observed their abilities, limitations and behavioral patterns. Black has also studied the importance of iron and zinc in children's diets. Her research into feeding disorders and obesity in children led her to establish an obesity prevention program.
Black is involved in research around the globe. In a study published in The Lancet (2002), she and colleagues from Peru found that children who don't grow well in the first two years of life experience cognitive deficits during their school-age years, which may affect their school performance. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, growth deficiency or malnutrition affects millions of children worldwide.
Black's studies of iron and zinc deficiencies have taken her to India and Bangladesh. In 1999, Black was the principal author of a study published in the journal of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences that looked at the ecological factors associated with early growth problems.
Zinc, a trace mineral that is found in the brain, contributes to the organ's structure and function. Some studies suggest that zinc deficiencies may lead to delays in cognitive development. Both zinc and iron are found in meat. Deficiencies in these minerals are common in countries like India and Bangladesh, where because of a combination of poverty and religious beliefs, many people don't eat meat.
Along with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Black is conducting a long-term study in these countries on iron and zinc and cognitive development in children. There are currently about 280 children enrolled in the study in Bangladesh, and about 680 children enrolled in the study in India.
In addition to her research on nutrition, growth and development, Black also studies various issues surrounding teen pregnancy and parenting.
Black was the lead investigator of a study on preschool-age children who live with their adolescent mothers and maternal grandmothers. Her research team looked at the cognitive and behavioral development of children living in such three-generation households.
The study, which appeared in the April 2002 edition of Pediatrics, found that living in three-generation households did not protect children from any maltreatment associated with maternal depression. In fact, preschool children living with their mothers and maternal grandmothers had even more behavioral problems than their counterparts in two-generation households.
The study concluded that while adolescent mothers and their infants may initially benefit from living with grandparents, by the time the children are 4 or 5 years of age, it is better for young mothers to establish their own residence (often with a male partner). This makes it easier for them to achieve the tasks of adolescence and enter adulthood.
In an earlier study, also published in Pediatrics (2001), Black found that both home and clinic-based interventions were effective in getting adolescent parents to stop feeding their infants solid foods prematurely. And in a study published in the journal Child Development (1999), Black and her colleagues found that children whose fathers play an active role in their lives develop better language skills and have fewer behavioral problems than children who have weak relationships with their fathers.