The impact of social disadvantage on preconception health, illness, and well-being: an intersectional analysis

Am J Health Promot. 2013 Jan-Feb;27(3 Suppl):eS32-42. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.120117-QUAL-43.


Purpose: To understand how social and structural contexts shape individual risk, vulnerability, and interconception health-related behaviors of African-American women. APPROACH OR DESIGN: A longitudinal ethnographic study was conducted.

Setting: The study was conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Participants: The sample included 19 African-American women who were participants in the intervention group of a randomized clinical trial of interconceptional care.

Method: Data were collected through interaction with participants over a period of 6 to 12 months. Participant observation , structured and unstructured interviews, and Photovoice were used to obtain data; grounded theory was used for analysis. The analysis was guided by intersectional theory.

Results: Social disadvantage influenced health and health care-seeking behaviors of African-American women, and the disadvantage centered on the experience of racism. The authors identify seven experiences grounded in the interactions among the forces of racism, class, gender, and history that may influence women's participation in and the effectiveness of preconception and interconception health care.

Conclusion: African-American women's health and wellness behaviors are influenced by an experience of racism structurally embedded and made more virulent by its intersection with class, gender, and history. These intersecting forces create what may be a unique exposure that contributes significantly to the proximal determinants of health inequities for African-American women. Health promotion approaches that focus on the individual as the locus of intervention must concomitantly unravel and address the intertwining structural forces that shape individual circumstance in order to improve women's interconceptional health and to reduce disparities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans*
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Philadelphia
  • Poverty*
  • Preconception Care*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Young Adult