Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

The pressing need to reduce the racial disparities in infant mortality, low birth weight, and preterm birth in the United States has led to new theories and new research directions on the pregnancies of African-American women (Hogue and Vasquez, 2002; Rich-Edwards et al., 2001; Rowley, 1994, 2001; Rowley et al., 1993). In particular, attention is being directed to the role of racism and discrimination in health outcomes in general (Krieger, 2000) and in pregnancy outcomes specifically (Collins et al., 2000, 2004). Racism is defined as racially motivated interpersonal and institutional discrimination (Krieger, 2000). Several research teams have developed self-report measures of racism, and these measures have been used in a handful of case-control and prospective studies of pregnancy. Collins and colleagues (2000) published the first study on this issue with a sample of low-income African American women in Chicago who delivered very low birth weight infants (n = 25), all of which were preterm, or matched controls with infants of normal birth weight (n = 60). They used Krieger’s measures developed for the CARDIA study (Krieger, 1990; Krieger and Sidney, 1996). These measures query participants about their experiences of racism at work, at school, when getting medical care, when receiving service at stores or restaurants, and when finding housing. Mothers with infants with very low birth weights were twice as likely to report experiences of racial discrimination during pregnancy as women who delivered infants of normal birth weight. After adjustment for socioeconomic condition, levels of social support, cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, and illegal drug use, the adjusted OR was 3.2.

Four subsequent studies have been published since publication of the first one by Collins et al. (2000), two of which had case-control designs (Collins et al., 2004; Rosenberg, 1965) and two of which had prospective designs (Dole et al., 2003; Mustillo et al., 2004). Mustillo and colleagues (2004) examined racial discrimination using the CARDIA data set, which included data from a 10-year prospective study of a large cohort of African American and white men and women. Their sample comprised the 352 African American and white women who gave birth to live infants at 20 weeks gestation or longer. Racism was measured by use of the Krieger measure at year 7 of the study, and low birth weight for an intervening pregnancy was assessed by self-report at year 10. Several findings are of interest. First, race was a risk factor for preterm birth, as expected (OR = 2.54); but the risk estimate was reduced after adjustment for lifetime experiences of racism, suggesting that racism may mediate the racial-ethnic difference in preterm birth rates. Smoking, alcohol intake, depression, and the amount of weight gained during pregnancy did not have such effects. Second, women who had experienced lifetime discrimination were nearly five times more

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement