Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Laura Distel

Laura Distel
Training Track: Clinical
Lab: CASA Lab
Advisor: Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, Ph.D.
Office: Coffey Hall 406
Webpage: LinkedIn

Undergraduate Degree

University of Michigan, BA, Psychology and Latin American and Caribbean Studies


My program of research focuses on the impact of early life stress on physical and mental health outcomes in minority and marginalized populations. I also am interested in the implementation and dissemination of interventions focused on improving access to mental health treatment among these populations.

Masters Thesis Title

The impact of chronic stress on childhood obesity and the protective effects of parental warmth.

Masters Thesis Abstract

An increasing body of literature has indicated that accumulation of stressful life experiences affects the HPA axis functioning, leading to numerous poor health outcomes (e.g. Van Uum et al. 2008; Kirschbaum et al. 2009; Thomson et al. 2010; Groeneveld et al., 2013). In addition, there is a growing literature on the effects of stressful life circumstances on becoming overweight and obese in childhood (Tsigos & Chrousos, 2006). However, there is a paucity of research that has investigated the complex relationship between stress, the dysregulation of the HPA axis and childhood obesity. In addition, while there is a growing body of literature on the effects of warm parenting on childhood obesity (Rhee et al., 2016), there is a lack of research on the mechanisms through which parental warmth affects childhood eating and weight management. Thus, the aims of this project were to 1) identify the direct and indirect (through HPA axis activity) effects of stress on children’s health and 2) examine the protective effect of parental warmth on child health. This study examined the hair cortisol levels of children ages 6 to 10 from a low-income Mexican-origin immigrant population. During the initial visit, parental warmth was assessed through both objective measurement through a coded video-taped interaction between parents and children as well as a subjective measurement of warmth through parent self-report. Twelve months later, children’s hair cortisol was sampled to reflect cortisol accumulations from 3-6 months prior to collection. Children were also weighed and measured to assess for zBMI at this time point. The discussion will examine the mechanisms through which stress affects childhood weight management and discuss possible modifiable mechanisms to improve physiological health outcomes of children at-risk for obesity.

Masters Thesis Committee

Catherine DeCarlo Santiago and Amy Bohnert

Dissertation Title

Examining mental health, family conflict, and body mass index among Mexican-origin immigrant families: A cross-lagged model

Dissertation Committee

Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, PhD; Amy Bohnert, PhD; Joanna Buscemi, PhD; Christine Li-Grining, PhD