Living in stressful neighbourhoods during pregnancy: an observational study of crime rates and birth outcomes

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Patterns of adverse birth outcomes vary spatially and there is evidence that this may relate to features of the physical environment such as air pollution. However, other social characteristics of the environment such as levels of crime are relatively understudied. This study examines the association between crime rates and birth weight and prematurity. Methods: Maternity inpatient data recorded at birth, including residential postcode, was linked to a representative 5% sample of Scottish Census data and small area crime rates from Scottish Police forces. Coefficients associated with crime were reported from crude and confounder adjusted models predicting low birth weight (< 2500 g), mean birthweight, small for gestational age and prematurity for all singleton live births. Results: Total crime rates were associated with strong and significant reductions in mean birth weight and increases in the risks of both a small for gestational age baby and premature birth. These effects, with the exception of prematurity, were robust to adjustment for individual characteristics including smoking, ethnicity and other socio-economic variables as well as area based confounders including air pollution. Mean birth weight was robust to additional adjustment for neighbourhood income deprivation. Conclusion: The level of crime in a mother’s area of residence, which may be a proxy for the degree of threat felt and therefore stress experienced, appears to be an important determinant of the risk of adverse birth outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2016


  • birth outcomes
  • neighbourhoods
  • crime rates
  • stress


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