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Social influences on birth weight
  1. N Spencer1,
  2. S Logan2
  1. 1Department of Child Health, School of Postgraduate Medical Education and School of Health and Social Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute of Child Health, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Professor Spencer;

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Risk factors for low birth weight are strongly influenced by the social environment

Birth weight, like growth, is determined by the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. The proportional contribution of these influences is unclear. However, birth weight varies within genetically similar populations,1–3 suggesting that environmental factors play a significant role. Secular changes in birth weight4 also suggest an environmental influence. Birth weight also shows a reverse social gradient such that increasing disadvantage is associated with decreasing birth weight.1–3


Environmental factors with a known association with birth weight are nutrition, smoking, maternal ill health, and genital infection. The association of other factors such as stress5 and exposure to some types of work during pregnancy6 remains unproven. Other risk factors for low birth weight such as maternal age, although not themselves environmental factors, …

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