Generational Issues Place Some Infants At Higher Risk of Low Birth Weight

Jennifer B. Kane PhD Assistant professor of Sociology University of California, Irvine Interview with:
Jennifer B. Kane PhD
Assistant professor of Sociology
University of California, Irvine

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?
Dr. Kane: We know that low-birth-weight babies are more susceptible to later physical and cognitive difficulties and that these difficulties can sharpen the social divide in the U.S. But knowing more about what causes low birth weight can help alleviate this intergenerational perpetuation of social inequality through poor infant health. This study was designed to expand our knowledge of these causes.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Kane: This study found that risk factors for low birth weight extend far beyond pregnancy—dating all the way back to women’s early life environment as well as to conditions dating back three generations. For example, a woman’s own weight at birth, as well as her education level and marital status pre-pregnancy can have repercussions for two generations, putting her children and grandchildren at higher risk of low birth weight.

This study also discovered new pathways of risk that contribute to poor infant health. For example, intergenerational transmissions of maternal education, potentially reflecting parent-child socialization or role modeling, appear to have a long-term influence on birth outcomes of future generations.

In addition, this study showed that intra-generational and inter-generational processes work in conjunction with one another to place some infants at higher risk of low birth weight.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Kane: The main take-away for clinicians is that factors pre-dating pregnancy can affect the risk of low birth weight. Gathering information from patients about these early life course social risk factors—for example, through a more extensive life history questionnaire at the first prenatal visit—could potentially improve our ability to identify, and ultimately treat, women at high risk of poor perinatal outcome.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The pathways documented in this study provide some initial clues as to how and where to intervene in order to improve birth outcomes. These should be further tested in future research. If this study’s findings are indeed replicated, this could open up a new area of research on integrative intra- and inter-generational pathways that may very well be the key to understanding why poor perinatal outcomes tend to be concentrated among some of the most disadvantaged populations—an area of significant concern that has thus far eluded our full understanding.


B. Kane. An Integrative Model of Inter- and Intragenerational Preconception Processes Influencing Birthweight in the United States. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2015; 56 (2): 246 DOI:10.1177/0022146515582043 is not a forum for the exchange of personal medical information, advice or the promotion of self-destructive behavior (e.g., eating disorders, suicide). While you may freely discuss your troubles, you should not look to the Website for information or advice on such topics. Instead, we recommend that you talk in person with a trusted medical professional.

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Jennifer B. Kane PhD (2015). Generational Issues Place Some Infants At Higher Risk of Low Birth Weight