This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Poor Health Behaviors Increase Risk of Poor Birth Outcomes

My hope is that anyone reading this blog post will know immediately that if you engage in risky health behaviors before or during pregnancy you increase the chance that your baby will be born with health problems that may indeed last a lifetime. Still, additional research findings along these lines never hurt to keep driving home the point. For this reason I was very interested to read the summary of an article forwarded to me by Professor Rumbaut at UC, Irvine, demonstrating that the behavior of mothers matters for their baby's health. More specifically, mothers who smoked as teens are more likely to deliver smaller babies.

The article was recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine by Jennifer Kane--a colleague of Professor Rumbaut at UCI, Kathleen Mullan Harris at the Carolina Population Center (UNC, Chapel Hill), and Anna Maria Siega-Riz, also at the Carolina Population Center. There are two interesting aspects to this paper: (1) the data and analysis are importantly connected to Past PAA Presidents; and (2) the whole subject matter takes me and Professor Rumbaut back to our collaborative research many years ago.

The data in this paper come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health or Add-Health as it is popularly known. This project was put together by Kathleen Mullen Harris (PAA President in 2009) and Dick Dry (PAA President in 1994). It was highly controversial at the time, as you can read about in my interview with Professor Udry as part of the PAA Oral History Project. The paper also references the work of Past PAA President Greg Duncan at UC, Irvine, whose interview has just been posted to the PAA website.

Professor Rumbaut and I collaborated on research aimed at understanding the differential birth outcomes among immigrants to San Diego from Indochina and also from Mexico. You can get a feel for our research in this paper, in which we found that infant death rates among Indochinese refugees was lower in San Diego in the 1980s than among Hispanics, Whites, and Blacks. One of the reasons was that they were less likely to smoke. Yes, their husbands were quite likely to smoke (and that's not good, of course), but very few women smoked. Furthermore, babies were conceived almost entirely to women older than the teens who were married. These are all predictors of better birth outcomes, a topic I recently discussed.

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