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

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 wa

Contact: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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