Genes May Play Bigger Preemie Birth Role

Cheryl Wittenhauer, AP, Feb. 9, 2007

Genetics may play a greater role than previously thought in accounting for black women’s higher rate of premature births, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have found.

Experts have long attributed the racial disparity in part to poverty, disparate access to medical care and other environmental factors.

But when the St. Louis researchers adjusted for age, education level, medical and socio-economic factors, black women still had higher rates of premature births and recurrence.

“It’s not all one or all the other,” said Dr. Louis Muglia, senior author of the study appearing in the February issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Muglia, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine, wrote that the study suggests black race—independent of other factors—increases risk for extreme pre-term birth and its recurrence in subsequent pregnancies.

Nationally, as well as in Missouri, white women have an 11 percent risk of delivering prematurely while black women have a 19 percent risk.

One outside expert said the large study, which was funded by the March of Dimes, is “very important work” that suggests black women are genetically predisposed to pre-term deliveries.

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Romero said it calls for more studies to determine the extent to which the phenomenon is genetic, environmental, or both.

Romer said premature birth is the leading cause of infant death among U.S. blacks.

The U.S. ranks 21st for infant deaths among developed nations, he said. The infant mortality rankings by the World Health Organization is one index of public health.

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