African American teen mothers have greater risk for low birth weight and premature babies

August 29, 2003

African American teens are twice as likely to deliver low birth weight babies and 1.5 times more likely to have premature babies than white adolescents, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study, conducted by the School's Center for Human Nutrition (CHN), examined birth outcomes of 1,120 pregnant African American teens age 17 and younger, living in Baltimore, Md. and compared them to national data on their white counterparts. When compared to pregnant black women of all ages in Maryland, the study found the younger group had almost twice the infant mortality rate (2.3 percent vs. 1.3 percent). The study appears in the August 2003, edition of The Journal of Pediatrics.

"This study shows the need for effective intervention programs to reduce the risk factors contributing to low birth weight and other poor pregnancy outcomes in this population," said principal investigator Kimberly O'Brien, PhD, associate professor with CHN and the School's Department of International Health. "In the long run, it costs more to pay for the health care costs associated with low birth weight and premature babies than to focus on prevention. There's not enough attention given to this vulnerable group."

Babies born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces and premature babies born before 37 weeks of gestation may face serious health problems and suffer developmental problems later in life. Babies born to teen mothers of all races are at a higher risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery and infant mortality, than those born to older mothers. Previous studies have also documented that black women in general have a higher risk of factors associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes than white or Hispanic women. Yet, until now, the risk factors for adverse birth outcomes in black teens had not been well-studied.

Baltimore led the nation with the highest percent of births to teens with 22.4 percent in 1998, which was nearly twice the national average of 12.5 percent (source: Population Connection, Kid Friendly Cities Report Card, 2002). CHN investigators identified several characteristics and risk factors related to adverse birth outcomes in the group of urban black teens, including low pre-pregnancy body mass index, inadequate weight gain during pregnancy, inadequate utilization of prenatal care, the presence of sexually transmitted diseases and a history of cigarette smoking.

Nutritional status and weight gain during pregnancy had a significant impact on the risk of preterm birth. Adolescents in the study who were underweight before pregnancy had twice the risk for preterm birth than those of a healthy weight.

More than two-thirds of all of the study participants did not have appropriate weight gain during pregnancy. Nearly 30 percent gained too little weight and 40 percent gained more than the recommended amount (25-35 pounds for normal weight women). Those who did not gain adequate weight had three times the risk for preterm birth than those who had appropriate weight gain during pregnancy.

Inadequate utilization of prenatal care was evident in more than half the girls in the study under age 15 and 35 percent of those ages 15-17. Among these girls, the number of preterm births was twice the national rate. Infant birth weight was also affected by risk taking behaviors during pregnancy. Girls with a history of cigarette smoking had babies who weighed on average 110 grams less than non-smokers. Rates of cigarette smoking among blacks is typically lower than white adolescents, but is increasing and is of great concern to the study investigators.

Sexually transmitted diseases were also common in this group. During pregnancy, over 20 percent of the adolescents had chlamydia, nearly 7 percent had gonorrhea and 30 percent had at least one vaginal infection during pregnancy. No single sexually transmitted disease was associated with preterm delivery or low birth weight, but girls who had a vaginal infection during pregnancy had babies with a slightly decreased birth weight.
"Characteristics and risk factors for adverse birth outcomes in pregnant black adolescents" was written by Shih-Chen Chang, Kimberly O'Brien, Maureen Schulman Nathanson, Jeri Mancini and Frank R. Witter.

Funding for this research study was provided by National Institutes of Health/NICHD.

News releases from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are available at Information about the Johns Hopkins Center for Human Nutrition is available at

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to