May 10, 2006

New York, NY – Researchers at the Columbia University School of Social Work and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey recently announced results from the first study to examine the impact of paternal age on low birth weight infants in a socio-economically disadvantaged population. The findings from the study are published in the May 2006 edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

In the study, teenage fathers were 30% less likely to have low birth weight babies – defined as less than 5 and one-half pounds – and older fathers were 70% more likely to have low birth weight babies than fathers between the ages of 20 to 34. The associations between paternal age and low birth weight were as large as those between maternal age and low birth weight. Low birth weight increases an infant’s risk of disorders including cerebral palsy, deafness and attention deficit disorder.

The study findings contrast with those from studies of wealthier populations, which found no effects of paternal age. The divergent findings suggest that health declines more quickly among poor men and that health disadvantages are passed onto their children even before they are born, probably through sperm or chromosomal abnormalities. These findings for men are consistent with other research indicating that the health of poor African American women deteriorates even at early ages.

“Our findings point to the links between poverty and the health of both men and women, and suggest that efforts should focus on alleviating the harsh living conditions of low income populations — not only to redress existing inequalities in health, but also to level the playing field for future generations,” said Dr. Julien Teitler, assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

“Accelerated health declines among poor individuals may be due to stresses from harsh living conditions, exposures to environmental toxins, or to limited access to health care,” said Dr. Nancy E. Reichman, associate professor of pediatrics at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The study was conducted using a population-based sample of 4,621 births in 20 large cities nationwide between 1998 and 2000. In that sample, 65 percent of mothers were on Medicaid; 47 percent of the women were black; 27 percent were Hispanic; and 21 percent were white.

For more information or to interview Dr. Julien Teitler, please contact Jeannie Yip at 212-851-2327 or jy2223@columbia.edu.

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