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Original Scholarship Social determinants of health Health Equity
David S. Curtis
Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell
Daniel L. Carlson
Michael R. Kramer
Aug 9, 2023
The Future of Population Health
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Context: Low birth weight (LBW; <2,500 grams) and infant mortality rates vary among place and racial group in the United States, with economic resources being a likely fundamental contributor to these disparities. The goals of this study were to examine time-varying county median income as a predictor of LBW rates and Black-White LBW disparities and to test county prevalence and racial disparities in maternal sociodemographic and health risk factors as mediators.
Methods: Using national birth records for 1992-2014 from the National Center for Health Statistics, a total of approximately 27.4 million singleton births to non-Hispanic Black and White mothers were included. Data were aggregated in three-year county-period observations for 868 US counties meeting eligibility requirements (n = 3,723 observations). Sociodemographic factors included rates of low maternal education, nonmarital childbearing, teenage pregnancy, and advanced-age pregnancy; and health factors included rates of smoking during pregnancy and inadequate prenatal care. Among other covariates, linear models included county and period fixed effects and unemployment, poverty, and income inequality.
Findings: An increase of $10,000 in county median income was associated with 0.34 fewer LBW cases per 100 live births and smaller Black-White LBW disparities of 0.58 per 100 births. Time-varying county rates of maternal sociodemographic and health risks mediated the association between median income and LBW, accounting for 65% and 25% of this estimate, respectively, but racial disparities in risk factors did not mediate the income association with Black-White LBW disparities. Similarly, county median income was associated with very low birth weight rates and related Black-White disparities.
Conclusions: Efforts to increase income levels—for example, through investing in human capital, enacting labor union protections, or attracting well-paying employment—have broad potential to influence population reproductive health. Higher income levels may reduce LBW rates and lead to more equitable outcomes between Black and White mothers.
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