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Truven Health Analytics and University of Wisconsin Study Finds Stress May Increase Preterm Birth among Adolescent Moms

Ann Arbor, MI, Apr. 08, 2014 — Stressful life events prior to conception can result in a four-fold increased risk of having a preterm birth among women aged 15-19 years, a new nationwide study reveals.

Scientists at Truven Health Analytics and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health have identified that stressful life events prior to conception are an important risk factor for preterm birth among adolescent (15-19 years) women. These findings highlight a potentially important period for interventions aimed at reducing preterm birth.

Preterm birth, when babies are born prior to 37 weeks gestation, occurs in approximately 12% of all births in the U.S. and is one of the leading causes of neonatal deaths in the U.S. Preterm birth can have lasting effects on children, including worse long-term health, impaired growth and development, behavior problems, and social and cognitive limitations. Reducing preterm birth is a national health priority and the focus of numerous public health efforts.

“Though it is well known that teenagers and older women have a higher risk of preterm birth, no studies have examined whether stressful life events affect a woman’s risk of preterm birth for these age groups, ” said Whitney P. Witt, PhD, MPH, director of research at Truven Health Analytics and the lead author of the study. “Our study suggests that adolescent women who experience a stressful life event, like the death of a parent, before their pregnancies are particularly vulnerable to giving birth to a baby preterm.”

The researchers examined data on 9350 pairs of mothers and children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Birth Cohort, a nationally representative study of US children born in 2001 and their parents. The goal of this study was to determine whether stress experienced prior to conception influences preterm birth and whether this effect varies by the age of the mother.

Important findings from the study include:
  • The effect of stressful life events (experienced before conception) on preterm birth was strongest for women aged 15–19 years, and this effect diminished as women increased in age.
  • Women aged 20-24 who experienced a stressful life event 1 year or more prior to conception (during adolescences and young adulthood) also had greater risk of preterm birth.

“Taken together with literature on adverse childhood events and childhood disadvantage, these results suggest that adolescence and early adulthood may be a particularly important period that has implications for reproductive health, ” Witt said. “We believe that treating stress and stressors as public health problems in and of themselves may be an effective way to prevent preterm birth, especially for adolescent women.”

Dr. Michael L. Taylor, chief medical officer at Truven Health Analytics, said “The costs incurred in caring for preterm babies can be substantial, especially when they require intensive care or NICU services. Our data have shown that when babies require NICU services, the average cost for mom and baby goes up by 400 to 500 percent nationally. Programs designed to manage stress that can reduce the need for such services have a good opportunity to show a very positive return on investment, for the payer as well as for the families who might avoid the long term challenges sometimes experienced by preterm babies.”

The research was funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health. It has been published in the American Journal of Public Health and is available online at http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301688. The study joins a series of related research on maternal and child health from Truven Health Analytics, including “Maternal Stressful Life Events Prior to Conception and the Impact on Infant Birth Weight in the United States” and “The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States”.

About Truven Health Analytics, part of the IBM Watson Health Business

Truven Health Analytics an IBM Company, delivers the answers that clients need to help them improve healthcare quality and access while reducing costs. We provide market-leading performance improvement solutions built on data integrity, advanced analytics, and domain expertise. For more than 40 years, our insights and solutions have been providing hospitals and clinicians, employers and health plans, state and federal government agencies, life sciences companies, and policymakers the facts they need to help them make confident decisions that directly affect the health and well-being of people and organizations in the U.S. and around the world.

Truven Health Analytics owns some of the most trusted brands in healthcare, such as MarketScan®, 100 Top Hospitals®, Advantage Suite®, Micromedex®, Simpler®, ActionOI® and JWA. Truven Health has its principal offices in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Chicago; and Denver. For more information, please visit http://truvenhealth.com.


Brian Erni
For Truven Health Analytics
J. Roderick, Inc. Public Relations