Background: In the United States, the birth weights of infants of black women are lower than those of infants of white women. The extent to which the lower birth weights among blacks are related to social or genetic factors is unclear.
Methods: We used vital records for 1980 through 1995 from Illinois to determine the distribution of birth weights among infants born to three groups of women -- U.S.-born blacks, African-born blacks, and U.S.-born whites.
Results: The mean birth weight of 44,046 infants of U.S.-born white women was 3446 g, that of 3135 infants of African-born black women was 3333 g, and that of 43,322 infants of U.S.-born black women was 3089 g. The incidence of low birth weight (weight less than 2500 g) was 13.2 percent among infants of U.S.-born black women and 7.1 percent among infants of African-born black women, as compared with 4.3 percent among infants of U.S.-born white women (relative risks, 3.1 and 1.6, respectively). Among the women at lowest risk (those 20 to 39 years old, with 12 years of education for themselves and their spouses, early prenatal care, gravida 2 or 3, and no previous fetal loss), the rate of low birth weight in infants of African-born black women (3.6 percent) was closer to the rate in infants of U.S.-born white women (2.4 percent), and the rate in infants of U.S.-born black women remained high (7.5 percent).
Conclusions: The birth-weight patterns of infants of African-born black women and U.S.-born white women are more closely related to one another than to the birth weights of infants of U.S.-born black women.