June 2, 2008
Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology discusses startling findings
New research suggests that one reason behind racial disparities in preterm birth may have a lot to do with where the mother lives. Written by Northeastern University professor Theresa Osypuk, the study found that regional hypersegregation (residential racial segregation across four or more dimensions*) may contribute to the higher rate of preterm births among Black women compared to White women. Prior research has shown that infants born to Black women in the U.S. are 50% more likely to be preterm than infants born to White women, although the causes remain poorly understood.
The paper, titled “Are Racial Disparities in Preterm Birth Larger in Hypersegregated Areas?,” also found that older Black women living in areas of the country with very high levels of neighborhood segregation experience even higher risk of preterm birth than Black mothers in less segregated areas. The study appeared in the latest issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The abstract is available at http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/167/11/1295.
Dr. Osypuk analyzed data related to births in 237 metropolitan areas, including Boston – almost two million infants – to estimate the odds of preterm birth by hypersegregation, race and age. Lead author Dr. Osypuk and her corresponding author, Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Associate Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health, also found that regional hypersegregation may contribute to the larger racial disparity in preterm births between Black and White infants.
“The complexity of residential segregation and its impact on preterm births and related health outcomes has been overlooked by health literature,” said Dr. Osypuk, Assistant Professor in Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences. “We believe that the association between residential segregation and higher risk of preterm birth is related to the neighborhood environments in which Black women live, including neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty, violent crime, and worse housing stock.”
The authors found that the association between higher rates of preterm births and hypersegregated areas was more pronounced at higher maternal ages. The racial disparity was also larger at higher ages. For example, an infant born to a Black woman over 40 years of age had a 2-times higher risk of preterm birth than a White infant of the same age in non-segregated regions, but this disparity in risk was 3 times higher in hypersegregated areas.
“This finding suggests that age-related preterm birth patterns may be related to stressors associated with residential segregation and neighborhood inequalities facing Black women, which accumulate with age. And these are stressors that White women just may not experience,” said Dr. Osypuk.
“Because of high levels of racial segregation, most Black and White women in the US live in entirely separate neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods differ markedly in their quality. In fact, some of our prior work finds that the racial disparity in neighborhood quality is largest in highly segregated areas,” added Dr. Osypuk.
*Hypersegregation refers to a region that experiences high residential segregation along at least four of these five dimensions simultaneously: exposure (the probability that Blacks have contact with Black neighbors); unevenness (the degree to which each neighborhood incorporates the same proportions of Blacks and Whites as the metropolitan area overall); clustering the tendency of Black neighborhoods to cluster together); centralization (the degree to which Black neighborhoods are at the center of the metropolitan area); and concentration (population density).
For more information and for a copy of the paper discussing the research, please contact Renata Nyul at 617-373-7424 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Bouvé College of Health Sciences
The mission of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences is to be a center of excellence in health professional education, research, and service, with an interdisciplinary emphasis that reflects today's team approach to health care. The College is committed to the generation and advancement of knowledge to improve the health and health care services of individuals and communities through basic and applied research. The three schools – health professions, nursing, and pharmacy – encourage innovation in the education of both entry level and advanced practice health professionals, and recognize the autonomy of each profession. Through partnerships with health care delivery systems and the community, Bouvé students and faculty have access to practice sites that prepare our graduates to meet the health care needs of our urban neighbors and society.
Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions. For more information, please visit www.northeastern.edu.