Commentary: Race and preterm birth-the case for epigenetic inquiry

Heather H. Burris*, James W. Collins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Preterm birth and infant mortality disproportionately affect African American families compared to White families. More than 18% of African American infants are born preterm (<37 weeks' gestation) compared to just less than 12% of White infants. Consequently, African American infants are twice as likely to die in their first year of life as White infants. Differences in socioeconomic status, prenatal care usage, and behavioral characteristics fail to explain the disparity in preterm birth between African Americans and Whites. Epidemiologic data support a life-course conceptual model for African American women's pregnancy disadvantage. Life-course factors influence pregnancy outcomes through two proposed mechanisms: early-life (fetal) programming of reproductive potential and cumulative wear and tear (weathering). The biologic mechanisms behind this theory are poorly understood. In this commentary, we argue that epigenetic inquiry represents the next frontier in investigating the mechanisms underlying racial disparities in birth outcome. We propose this with the hope that these discoveries will lead to opportunities for interventions and ultimate improvements in birth outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-299
Number of pages4
JournalEthnicity and Disease
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010


  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetic processes
  • Ethnicity
  • Infant mortality
  • Minority health
  • Preterm birth
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


Dive into the research topics of 'Commentary: Race and preterm birth-the case for epigenetic inquiry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this