Neighborhood’s Effect on Pregnancy

Genetics, age, nutrition, and diet can contribute to low birth weight. Recent research suggests another factor to consider—the level of crime in the mother’s neighborhood.

Dark street lit up by flashing lights from several emergency vehicles

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Birth outcomes are the summation of many different factors including genetics, age, nutrition, and diet. Recent research from Tom Clemens and Chris Dibben of University of Edinburgh suggests another factor to consider—level of crime in the mother’s neighborhood. They compare the level of crime in the mother’s neighborhood to key birth outcomes such as birth weight and prematurity. They sampled maternity inpatient data in Scotland, connecting it to the Scottish police force data on crime.

Clemens and Dibben found an association between local crime and birthweight when adjusting for other factors such as individual characteristics and pollution. They reasoned that the level of crime could translate to the amount of threat, and thus stress, experienced by the mother. Chronic stress leads to activation of hormones that may affect birth outcomes.

Low Birthweight and What It Means

Defined as 5.5 pounds or less, low birth weight infants are at greater risk for a variety of health complications such as problems with the heart, respiratory system, infections, and much more. The adverse health effects continue later in life as those with low birth weight are twice as likely to have problematic health by the ages of 37-52 compared to their normal birthweight siblings.

Low birth weight also affects socioeconomic status later in life. According to a study by Rucker Johnson and Robert Schoeni, low birthweight children are a third more likely to drop out of high school and have a 22% reduction in wages between the ages of 27 and 52 compared to normal birthweight siblings.

A Safer Neighborhood

Neighborhood safety is a public health concern. Vandalism, minor assault, and drug offenses contribute to an aura of danger and instability in a neighborhood. Reducing crime not only improves public safety but might encourage healthier pregnancies.

Feature image: Chris Becker, sixty six of three hundred sixty five, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0