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Age, Poverty Affect Birth Weight More in U.S. Blacks

Age, Poverty Affect Birth Weight More in U.S. Blacks

November 1, 2001

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - African-American women are nearly four times as likely as white women to have very low birth weight (VLBW) infants, and this risk is increased as these women age, according to a report.

VLBW infants weigh less than 3.3 pounds at birth. They are less likely to survive, much more likely to be born prematurely, and more likely than infants of normal weight to have developmental problems. Moderately low birth weight (MLBW) infants weigh between 3.3 and 5.5 pounds.

"For poor women, and especially for poor African-American women, maternal age undoubtedly reflects length of exposure to a lifetime of health-eroding experiences," Dr. Virginia A. Rauh of Columbia University in New York City and colleagues write in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health: Journal of the American Public Health Association.

Rauh's team looked at data on the nearly 160,000 babies born in New York City between 1987 and 1993. White women were no more likely to deliver a VLBW baby as they aged, the researchers found, but after age 30 their likelihood of delivering a MLBW infant did increase somewhat.

Overall, African-American women were more than twice as likely as white American women to have an MLBW baby. The investigators found that among African-American women receiving Medicaid, the effects of age on increasing the likelihood that they would deliver an MLBW baby were heightened.

However, poverty did not increase African-American women's likelihood of delivering a VLBW infant. Also, while African-American women living in poorer communities were more likely to deliver a MLBW baby, they were not at higher risk of delivering a VLBW child, the report indicates.

The investigation revealed that age played a more significant role for African-American women than for white women and that the extreme age-related effects observed for African-American women were largely concentrated among poor women.

"It is clear that being African American and poor at 20 years of age carries meaningful reproductive risks, but the incidence of low birth weight outcomes to poor African-American women after the age of 30 is truly alarming," Rauh and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2001;91:1815-1824.

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