Racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes

In the United States, Black infants have significantly worse birth outcomes than do White infants. The cause of these persisting racial disparities remains unexplained. Most extant studies focus on differential exposures to protective and risk factors during pregnancy, such as current socioeconomic status, maternal risky behaviors, prenatal care, psychosocial stress or perinatal infections. These risk factors during pregnancy, however, do not adequately account for the disparities. We conducted a literature review for longitudinal models of health disparities and presented a synthesis of two leading models using a life-course perspective. Traditional risk factors during pregnancy are then reexamined within their life course context. We conclude with a discussion of the limitations and implications of the life course perspective for future research, practice and policy development.

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