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Foreign-born Hispanic women have fewer low birthweight babies than their American-born counterparts

One in five women of childbearing age in the United States is foreign-born. Compared with women born in the United States, foreign-born women are more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and uninsured—factors usually associated with poor birth outcomes. Yet Hispanic women born in the United States are more likely than those born in other countries to have moderately low birthweight (LBW) infants. However, there is no difference by country of birth in the incidence of LBW infants among Asian, black, and white women, according to a recent study supported in part by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (HS07373). The study was conducted by researchers at the Medical Treatment Effectiveness Minority Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

The perinatal advantage of foreign-born Hispanic women—attributed by some to better diet, cultural support, and other factors—compared with other immigrant women in the United States remains a mystery. Unfortunately, the birth certificate data used in this study did not permit an assessment of the relationship between these factors and low birthweight, according to the study's lead author, Elena Fuentes-Afflick, M.D., M.P.H.

The researchers used 1992 California birth certificate data on 497,868 infants born to Asian, black, Hispanic, and white women to measure the relationship between maternal birthplace, ethnicity, and LBW infants, after adjusting for maternal and care factors. Results showed no difference in LBW infants among foreign-born Asian women and those born in the United States, but the small sample of LBW Asian infants may have made it difficult to detect a difference. Also, there was some indication that incidence of LBW infants varied by Asian subgroup. There was no difference in very LBW or moderately LBW infants between foreign-born and American-born black women and white women after adjustments were made for maternal and infant factors affecting birthweight.

See "Maternal birthplace, ethnicity, and low birth weight in California," by Dr. Fuentes-Afflick, Nancy A. Hessol, M.S.P.H., and Eliseo J. Perez-Stable, M.D., in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 152, pp. 1105-1112, 1998.

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