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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Low Birth Weight Differ by Maternal Birthplace

A study from the University of Washington School of Public Health found that within certain racial and ethnic groups, women born outside the U.S. had a lower risk of having a low birth weight baby than their native-born counterparts, even after controlling for common pregnancy complications.

[Photo: Ms. Paige Wartko]

The findings, published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, could help public health practitioners target interventions to address racial and ethnic disparities in low birth weight, which is a risk factor for infection, respiratory distress, and death shortly after birth, as well as chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure later in life.

“This is really about disaggregating the data in order to better assess needs and design culturally relevant programs and services for those most in need throughout our county,” said co-author Dr. Eva Wong, clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at the School and an epidemiologist with Public Health — Seattle & King County.

Using Washington state birth records from more than 113,000 live singleton births in King County between 2008 and 2012, the team compared the incidence of low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams or 5.5 lbs) across several racial and ethnic groups, and between foreign- and U.S.-born women of the same race and ethnicity.

Filipino, Asian Indian and non-Hispanic Black women had the highest incidences of low birth weight, from 6.8 to 7.6 percent of births. Chinese, Korean, and non-Hispanic White women had the lowest incidences, from 3.4 to 3.7 percent of births. Considering the effect of birthplace within racial and ethnic groups, Asian women born in East Asia, non-Hispanic Black women from Sub-Saharan Africa, and non-Hispanic White women from other developed countries all had lower incidences of low birth weight than women of those racial and ethnic groups born in the U.S.

These patterns largely held after controlling for several sociodemographic and health factors, including maternal education, smoking and adequacy of prenatal care, as well as for pregnancy complications such as pregnancy-induced hypertension, obesity and gestational diabetes.

“These disparities seem to exist beyond adjustment for socioeconomic factors, and even beyond adjustment for common pregnancy complications,” said lead author Ms. Paige Wartko, a doctoral student in the School’s department of epidemiology. She began the research as a master’s student in the Epi Scholars program, a program grounded in the academic public health model that offers practice-based training for students, at Public Health — Seattle & King County.

Dr. Daniel Enquobahrie, an associate professor of epidemiology at the School and director of the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health, is also a co-author.