Black women are almost twice as likely to give birth prematurely than white women.
A recent study by Dr. Paula Braveman from the University of California, San Francisco, has found that disparities in preterm birth rates between Black and white women in the U.S. are directly or indirectly attributed to racism.
For her research, Braveman and the March of Dimes put together a team of geneticists, clinicians, epidemiologists, biomedical experts, and neurologists to head the review.
During their studies, Braveman and the team examined the quality of prenatal care, environmental toxins, chronic stress, poverty, obesity, as well as dozens of other suspected causes of preterm births.
Their study concluded that racism plays a major factor, directly or indirectly, in explaining the racial disparities in preterm birth rates in American women.
The very thorough review had some interesting takeaways. When the team looked at substance abuse as a factor for preterm birth they found black women of reproductive age are less likely than their White counterparts to smoke, engage in heavy drinking, or use marijuana. They also found higher maternal use of alcohol and tobacco among Whites, but higher use of illicit drugs among Black mothers. Black people smoke less but are more likely to die of smoking-related causes than Whites. They concluded that blacks had greater exposure to environmental toxins which increase the adverse effects of smoking.
Environmental Toxicity & Neighborhood Social Disadvantages
Black people in the U.S. are far more likely than whites to live in racially segregated neighborhoods. Due to environmental injustices, black women are exposed to toxins at a much higher rate. Air and water quality, as well as exposure to traffic and industrial pollution, play a major role in the racial disparities in preterm birth rates.
The study revealed that the combination of greater exposure to environmental toxins and neighborhood social disadvantages hurt black women’s birth outcomes. Air conditioning was a factor studied during research and Braveman found to have access to one could “reduce the preterm birth risk associated with excessive heat exposure. Predominately black neighborhoods had less access du to income and education levels.
In a 2020 review of 58 studies of air pollution and pregnancy, 84% of studies reported a significant association of air pollution with adverse birth outcomes, including preterm birth.
Click here to read entire review.
Check out the graph below from frontiersin.org: