Preterm birth: the interaction of traffic-related air pollution with economic hardship in Los Angeles neighborhoods

Am J Epidemiol. 2005 Jul 15;162(2):140-8. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwi173. Epub 2005 Jun 22.


Preterm birth may be affected by the interaction of residential air pollution with neighborhood economic hardship. The authors examined variations in traffic-related pollution exposure--measured by distance-weighted traffic density--using a framework reflecting the social and physical environments. An adverse social environment was conceptualized as low socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods--census tracts with concentrated poverty, unemployment, and dependence on public assistance. An adverse physical environment was depicted by the winter season, when thermal inversions trap motor vehicle pollutants, thereby increasing traffic-related air pollution. Los Angeles County, California, birth records from 1994 to 1996 were linked to traffic counts, census data, and ambient air pollution measures. The authors fit multivariate logistic models of preterm birth, stratified by neighborhood SES and third pregnancy trimester season. Traffic-related air pollution exposure disproportionately affected low SES neighborhoods in the winter. Further, in these poorer neighborhoods, the winter season evidenced increased susceptibility among women with known risk factors. Health insurance was most beneficial to women residing in neighborhoods exposed to economic hardship and an adverse physical environment. Reducing preterm births warrants a concerted effort of social, economic, and environmental policies, focused on not only individual risk factors but also the reduction of localized air pollution, expansion of health-care coverage, and improvement of neighborhood resources.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage / economics
  • Insurance, Health / economics
  • Los Angeles / epidemiology
  • Maternal Age
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Motor Vehicles*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Poverty Areas*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Premature Birth / epidemiology*
  • Premature Birth / ethnology
  • Premature Birth / etiology
  • Public Assistance
  • Risk
  • Seasons
  • Unemployment


  • Environmental Pollutants