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Study to look at race, pre-term babies

GREENVILLE, NC   (Feb. 16, 2004)   —   A researcher at East Carolina University will aim to identify a correlation between race and premature births in an upcoming study.

Dr. Elizabeth Jesse, a faculty member in the School of Nursing, will lead the study, which is funded with a $160,354 grant from the March of Dimes and Healthy People 2010.

Jesse will interview 300 white, black and Hispanic low-income women to identify behavioral risks, such as drug or alcohol use, and psycho-sociological factors, such as depression or attitude, that could factor into low birth weights or premature births.

Babies are considered preterm at 37 weeks or earlier. Babies born weighing less than 2,500 grams are considered underweight.

Jesse has completed two studies that indicate a correlation between low-income women and preterm births or low birth weight.

Jesse proposed examining what role race plays.

"African American woman have twice the rate of low birth weight babies," Jesse said. "And, of course, then the risk of infant mortality is increased. It's a real big problem."

Black women tend to have a higher rate of preterm babies compared to white or Hispanic women, Jesse said. Jesse also pointed out that Hispanic woman often have higher birth weight and longer terms than other ethnic groups. Jesse said this might be due to a stronger social network.

"I want to find out what are the unique risks and what are the unique resources that these groups have," she said. Jesse's previous studies identified depression and a lack of a social support network as factors in pre-term births. "I thought, 'I need to replicate this to see if it is true in other populations,'" she said.

The study will follow 300 women in mid-pregnancy (16-28 weeks). Jesse said she will look at biophysical factors such as a history of preterm births in the family. She will also study other factors such as stress, depression and attitude.

After the study is complete Jesse hopes it will have an effect for educational purposes in teaching woman the signs of factors that could affect the health of their baby, such as depression or early labor.

"The less the babies weigh, the less likely it is that they will survive," she said. "It is such a big problem in this country and we can't seem to solve it."


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