The risk of teen mothers having low birth weight babies: implications of recent medical research for school health personnel

J Sch Health. 1998 Sep;68(7):271-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.1998.tb00581.x.


This article reviews recent medical research on the relationship between young maternal age and the incidence of low birth weight infants. One line of research, "nature," emphasizes biological factors in early adolescence such as immaturity of the female reproductive system and inadequate prenatal weight gain. "Nurture," another research focus, stresses sociocultural attributes of teen mothers such as poverty and minority status. Young maternal age alone does not explain the higher rates of low birth weight infants born to adolescent females. Both biological and sociocultural factors, plus lifestyle choices made by adolescents, combine to raise or lower the risk of delivering a low birth weight infant. School health personnel need to link their health promotion efforts to those of other community organizations serving adolescents and their families.

PIP: This paper reviews a medical study on the relationship between low birth weight babies and young maternal age, and examines the biological and sociocultural factors that put female adolescents at risk for delivering a low birth weight infant. Young female adolescents are not uniformly at risk for having low birth weight infants. The incidence of low birth weight in younger adolescents can be explained in part by biological factors such as immaturity of the female reproductive system and inadequate prenatal weight gain, and in part by sociocultural and life style factors such as race and poverty. The poor and minority groups are at greatest risk. The school health personnel can help reduce the risk of teen mothers of having low birth weight babies by exerting joint efforts with teachers, students, parents, and community organizations and agencies in implementing school-wide environments that support healthy lifestyle choices, postponing first pregnancies, and reducing unwanted pregnancies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services / organization & administration
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Risk Factors
  • School Health Services / organization & administration
  • Socioeconomic Factors