A recent study led by Irene Headen at the University of California, Berkeley investigated the link between time spent in impoverished neighborhoods and the level of unhealthy weight gain of pregnant women.
Irene Headen is a postdoctoral research fellow working with the Drexel University Urban Health Collaborative, which is part of the Dornsife School of Public Health.
The study looked at the results of a survey conducted from 1979 to 2012 that examined the living conditions of approximately 3,300 women and documented their pregnancies. The researchers looked at how changes in socioeconomic living condition affected a woman’s health and that of her child.
Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal and expected. The Institute of Medicine defines optimal weight gain for a woman with normal BMI as gaining anywhere from 25 to 35 pounds. Any amount that is less than that can lead to birth complications such as low birth weights and preterm births. The goal of Headen’s study was to show the importance of supporting women through their whole life to support them through a healthy pregnancy.
The study found that women who live in neighborhoods below the average on the study’s socioeconomic scale were 8 percent more likely to not gain enough weight to support a healthy pregnancy. Although the researchers found no difference between races for below-average weight gain, they found that black and Latina women were not at a higher risk for gaining more weight than recommended when living in impoverished neighborhoods, but white women had an 11 percent higher risk when living in an impoverished neighborhood. Headen proposed that this difference between races is due to the historical segregation of racial and ethnic minorities leading to a lower variation in the types of neighborhoods minority women live in. Because white mothers have a higher degree of variability in the type of neighborhood they live in, there are greater differences in excessive pregnancy weight gain.
“The disadvantaged neighborhoods that girls and women live in as they grow up and transition into early adulthood have long-lasting impacts for them and their children through the experience of pregnancy.” Headen explained.
She hopes that the study will inspire change to support women through healthy pregnancies through methods such as designing equitable neighborhood environments.