Both parents matter: a national-scale analysis of parental race/ethnicity, disparities in prenatal PM2.5 exposures and related impacts on birth outcomes

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Payne-Sturges, D.C., Puett, R. & Cory-Slechta, D.A. Both parents matter: a national-scale analysis of parental race/ethnicity, disparities in prenatal PM2.5 exposures and related impacts on birth outcomes. Environ Health 21, 47 (2022).


Most U.S. studies that report racial/ethnic disparities in increased risk of low birth weight associated with air pollution exposures have been conducted in California or northeastern states and/or urban areas, limiting generalizability of study results. Few of these studies have examined maternal racial/ethnic groups other than Non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White and Hispanic, nor have they included paternal race. We aimed to examine the independent effects of PM2.5 on birth weight among a nationally representative sample of U.S. singleton infants and how both maternal and paternal race/ethnicity modify relationships between prenatal PM2.5 exposures and birth outcomes. We used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS–B), a longitudinal nationally representative cohort of 10,700 U.S. children born in 2001, which we linked to U.S.EPA’s Community Multi-scale Air Quality (CMAQ)-derived predicted daily PM2.5 concentrations at the centroid of each Census Bureau Zip Code Tabulation Area (ZCTA) for maternal residences. We examined relationships between term birthweight (TBW), term low birthweight rate (TLBW) and gestational PM2.5 pollutant using multivariate regression models. Effect modification of air pollution exposures on birth outcomes by maternal and paternal race was evaluated using stratified models. All analyses were conducted with sample weights to provide national-scale estimates. The majority of mothers were White (61%). Fourteen percent of mothers identified as Black, 21% as Hispanic, 3% Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and 1% American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN). Fathers were also racially/ethnically diverse with 55% identified as White Non-Hispanic, 10% as Black Non-Hispanic, 19% as Hispanic, 3% as AAPI and 1% as AIAN. Results from the chi-square and ANOVA tests of significance for racial/ethnic differences indicate disparities in prenatal exposures and birth outcomes by both maternal and paternal race/ethnicity. Prenatal PM2.5 was associated with reduced birthweights during second and third trimester and over the entire gestational period in adjusted regression models, although results did not reach statistical significance. In models stratified by maternal race and paternal race, one unit increase in PM2.5 was statistically significantly associated with lower birthweights among AAPI mothers, -5.6 g (95% CI:-10.3, -1.0 g) and AAPI fathers, -7.6 g (95% CI: -13.1, -2.1 g) during 3rd trimester and among births where father’s race was not reported, -14.2 g (95% CI: -24.0, -4.4 g). These data suggest that paternal characteristics should be used, in addition to maternal characteristics, to describe the risks of adverse birth outcomes. Additionally, our study suggests that serious consideration should be given to investigating environmental and social mechanisms, such as air pollution exposures, as potential contributors to disparities in birth outcomes among AAPI populations.


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