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Impact of being underweight before pregnancy on preterm birth by race/ethnicity and insurance status in California: an analysis of birth records.

BACKGROUND: The US still has a high burden of preterm birth (PTB), with important disparities by race/ethnicity and poverty status. There is a large body of literature looking at the impact of pre-pregnancy obesity on PTB, but fewer studies have explored the association between underweight status on PTB, especially with a lens toward health disparities. Furthermore, little is known about how weight, specifically pre-pregnancy underweight status, and socio-economic-demographic factors such as race/ethnicity and insurance status, interact with each other to contribute to risks of PTB.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study was to measure the association between pre-pregnancy underweight and PTB and small for gestational age (SGA) among a large sample of births in the US. Our secondary objective was to see if underweight status and two markers of health disparities - race/ethnicity and insurance status (public vs. other) - on PTB.

STUDY DESIGN: We used data from all births in California from 2011 to 2017, which resulted in 3,070,241 singleton births with linked hospital discharge records. We ran regression models to estimate the relative risk of PTB by underweight status, by race/ethnicity, and by poverty (Medi-cal status). We then looked at the interaction between underweight status and race/ethnicity and underweight and poverty on PTB.

RESULTS: Black and Asian women were more likely to be underweight (aRR = 1.0, 95% CI: 1.01, 1.1 and aRR = 1.4, 95% CI: 1.4, 1.5, respectively), and Latina women were less likely to be underweight (aRR = 0.7, 95% CI: 0.7, 0.7). Being underweight was associated with increased odds of PTB (aRR = 1.3, 95% CI 1.3-1.3) and, after controlling for underweight, all nonwhite race/ethnic groups had increased odds of PTB compared to white women. In interaction models, the combined effect of being both underweight and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) statistically significantly reduced the relative risk of PTB (aRR = 0.9, 95% CI: 0.8, 0.9) and SGA (aRR = 1.0, 95% CI: 0.9, 1.0). The combined effect of being both underweight and on public insurance increased the relative risk of PTB (aRR = 1.1, 95% CI: 1.1, 1.2) but there was no additional effect of being both underweight and on public insurance on SGA (aRR = 1.0, 95% CI: 1.0, 1.0).

CONCLUSIONS: We confirm and build upon previous findings that being underweight preconception is associated with increased risk of PTB and SGA - a fact often overlooked in the focus on overweight and adverse birth outcomes. Additionally, our findings suggest that the effect of being underweight on PTB and SGA differs by race/ethnicity and by insurance status, emphasizing that other factors related to inequities in access to health care and poverty are contributing to disparities in PTB.

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