Variations in low birth weight and preterm delivery among blacks in relation to ancestry and nativity: New York City, 1998-2002

David L. Howard, Susan S. Marshall, Jay S. Kaufman, David A. Savitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES. Black women in the United States are more likely to give birth to preterm and low birth-weight infants than their white counterparts, but little is known about variation in birth outcomes within the black population. This study aimed to test the hypothesis that the risk of low birth weight and preterm birth within the black population varies by maternal ancestry and nativity. POPULATION AND METHODS.We conducted a retrospective cohort study using New York City birth records. All of the recorded live births to black women occurring in New York City between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 2002 (N = 168 039), were divided into the following self-reported ancestry groups: African, American, Asian, Cuban, European, Puerto Rican, South and Central American (excluding Brazilian), and West Indian and Brazilian. To estimate adjusted risk ratios for low birth weight (weight at birth <2500 g) and preterm birth (gestational age at delivery <37 weeks, based on clinical estimate), we ran 3 models for each outcome, using negative binomial regression and Poisson regression with robust SE estimation. All of the models used blacks reporting American ancestry as the reference group. The first model included ancestry as the primary exposure variable along with covariates that included maternal age, parity, smoking, and education, as well as paternal education and race. Nativity (US- or foreign-born) was included in the second model, and terms representing interaction effects between ancestry and nativity were included in the third model. RESULTS. There was substantial variation in risks of preterm birth and low birth weight among the black subgroups, with all of the groups having lower risks than the American black reference group, even after adjusting for maternal risk factors and other covariates. Risk ratios for low birth weight ranged from 0.55 among South/Central Americans to 0.91 among Cubans; risk ratios for preterm birth showed a similar pattern. Nativity was also associated with low birth weight and preterm birth; births to foreign-born women were less likely to be preterm or low birth weight than births to US-born women. Furthermore, nativity effects varied by ancestry group, with foreign-born status inversely associated with poor birth outcomes among South/Central Americans but not among West Indians/Brazilians. CONCLUSIONS. Important health differences may be masked in studies that treat black women in America as a homogeneous group and do not take ethnic variation and nativity into account.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1399-e1405
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Ethnicity
  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Race


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