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Member Research and Reports

Drexel Research Finds Living in Poor Neighborhoods Prevents Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain

The longer a woman spends living in a neighborhood low on the socio-economic scale, the more likely she is to not gain enough weight during pregnancy, according to a new study.

Dr. Irene Headen, now a postdoctoral research fellow in Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative, at the Dornsife School of Public Health, led the study — which was published in Health & Place — while at the University of California, Berkeley. She and her colleagues looked at associations between time spent living in socioeconomically “deprived” neighborhoods and non-optimal weight gain during pregnancy. 

 Neighborhood deprivation was measured on a socio-economic scale that included measures such as poverty and unemployment. The researchers found that if a woman — from the start of the study to the beginning of her pregnancy — lived in a neighborhood one step down on the scale from the average level of deprivation, she had an 8 percent increased risk of gaining less than the recommended pregnancy weight.  

“One of the most important takeaways from this study is how critical it is to consider the full life course of women when thinking about how to support them through a healthy pregnancy,” Dr. Headen said.

 Non-optimal pregnancy weight gain has been defined by the Institute of Medicine as less than 25 pounds or more than 35 pounds for “normal weight” women — as defined by body mass index.

Not gaining this advised amount of weight during pregnancy has been tied to low birth weights and preterm birth. So Dr. Headen and her fellow researchers used a nationally representative survey conducted between 1979 and 2012 to analyze the residential circumstances of roughly 3,300 women and 5,600 pregnancies.

 Since the analysis was tied to a study that spanned so many years, it presented a broad perspective of how changes in a woman’s circumstances over decades might have influenced her health — and subsequently, that of her baby’s — during pregnancy.

 The researchers examined results by race but found no significant difference for white, black or Latina women in how long-term residence in low-income neighborhoods affected pregnancy weight. Thus the impact seemed to be linked to where they lived, regardless of race.

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