Using a Life Course Model to Examine Racial Disparities in Low Birth Weight During Adolescence and Young Adulthood

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This study examined relationships between health, social, environmental, and economic factors during adolescence and the subsequent risk of giving birth to a low-birth-weight (LBW) infant, to inform strategies for reducing racial disparities in LBW.


Data were derived from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. A sample of 1213 adolescents, reporting on first pregnancies, was created with 35% black, non-Hispanic (black) and 65% white, non-Hispanic (white) participants. Independent variables were from the domains of individual characteristics, health status, access to care, and social environment. The dependent variable was low birth weight. Overall and race-specific logistic regression models were estimated.


Black women had 1.9 times the odds of giving birth to an LBW infant as white women. Factors associated with LBW differed between black women and white women. Black women with a history of hypertension were 6 times more likely to have an LBW infant. Intimate partner support during prenatal care was protective for black women. Factors associated with an increased risk of giving birth to an LBW infant for white women included an intergenerational pattern of LBW, low body mass index during adolescence, and smoking during pregnancy. Socioeconomic factors during adolescence did not predict the odds of having an LBW infant for either group, except for white women whose parents had less than a high school education and black women living in medium-poverty neighborhoods.


Findings suggest that strategies to reduce racial disparities should address the specific needs of the population being served over the life course.

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