The role of maternal early-life and later-life risk factors on offspring low birth weight: findings from a three-generational study

J Adolesc Health. 2011 Aug;49(2):166-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.11.246. Epub 2011 Mar 12.


Purpose: This study examined three research questions: (1) Is there an association between maternal early-life economic disadvantage and the birth weight of later-born offspring? (2) Is there an association between maternal abuse in childhood and the birth weight of later-born offspring? (3) To what extent are these early-life risks mediated through adolescent and adult substance use, mental and physical health status, and adult socioeconomic status (SES)?

Methods: Analyses used structural equation modeling to examine data from two longitudinal studies, which included three generations. The first generation (G1) and the second generation (G2) were enrolled in the Seattle Social Development Project (SSDP), and the third generation (G3) was enrolled in the SSDP Intergenerational Project. Data for the study (N = 136) focused on (G2) mothers enrolled in the SSDP and their children (G3).

Results: Analyses revealed that G2 low childhood SES predicted G3 offspring birth weight. Early childhood abuse among G2 respondents predicted G3 offspring birth weight through a mediated pathway including G2 adolescent substance use and G2 prenatal substance use. Birth weight was unrelated to maternal adult SES, depression, or obesity.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify the effect of maternal early-life risks of low childhood SES and child maltreatment on later-born offspring birth weight. These findings have far-reaching effects on the cumulative risk associated with early-life economic disadvantage and childhood maltreatment. Such findings encourage policies and interventions that enhance child health at birth by taking the mother's own early-life and development into account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Birth Weight*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child of Impaired Parents* / psychology
  • Child of Impaired Parents* / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Social Class*