Racial/Ethnic Inequities in Low Birth Weight and Preterm Birth: The Role of Multiple Forms of Stress

Joanna Almeida*, Laia Bécares, Kristin Erbetta, Vani R. Bettegowda, Indu B. Ahluwalia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction Racial/ethnic inequities in low birth weight (LBW) and preterm birth (PTB) persist in the United States. Research has identified numerous risk factors for adverse birth outcomes; however, they do not fully explain the occurrence of, or inequalities in PTB/LBW. Stress has been proposed as one explanation for differences in LBW and PTB by race/ethnicity. Methods Using the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) data from 2012 to 2013 for 21 states and one city (n = 15,915) we used Poisson regression to estimate the association between acute, financial and relationship stressors and LBW and PTB, and to examine the contribution of these stressors individually and simultaneously to racial/ethnic differences in LBW and PTB. Results Adjusting for age and race/ethnicity, acute (p < 0.001), financial (p < 0.001) and relationship (p < 0.05) stressors were associated with increased risk of LBW, but only acute (p < 0.05) and financial (p < 0.01) stress increased risk of PTB. Across all models, non-Hispanic blacks had higher risk of LBW and PTB relative to non-Hispanic whites (IRR 1.87, 95% CI 1.55, 2.27 and IRR 1.46, 95% CI 1.18, 1.79). Accounting for the effects of stressors attenuated the risk of LBW and PTB by 17 and 22% respectively, but did not fully explain the increased likelihood of LBW and PTB among non-Hispanic blacks. Discussion Results of this study demonstrate that stress may increase the risk of LBW and PTB. While stressors may contribute to racial/ethnic differences in LBW and PTB, they do not fully explain them. Mitigating stress during pregnancy may help promote healthier birth outcomes and reduce racial/ethnic inequities in LBW and PTB.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1154-1163
Number of pages10
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • Adverse birth outcomes
  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Psychosocial stressors
  • Racial/ethnic inequities


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