Prevention Science

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 162–172 | Cite as

Maternal Early Life Risk Factors for Offspring Birth Weight: Findings from the Add Health Study

  • Amelia R. GavinEmail author
  • Elaine Thompson
  • Tessa Rue
  • Yuqing Guo


The aim of this study was to examine the pathways that link mothers’ early life socio economic status (SES) and mothers’ experience of childhood maltreatment with birth weight among their later born offspring. Data were drawn from a nationally representative longitudinal survey of school-aged respondents, initially enrolled during adolescence in Wave I (1994–1995) and Wave II (1996) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and followed-up in adulthood in Wave III (2001–2002). Data on offspring birth weight were obtained from nulliparous females (N = 1,897) who had given birth between Waves II and III. Analyses used structural equation modeling to examine the extent to which early life maternal risk predicted offspring birth weight, and demonstrated that maternal childhood SES and maternal childhood maltreatment predicted offspring birth weight through several mediated pathways. First, maternal adolescent substance use and prenatal cigarette use partially mediated the association between maternal childhood SES and offspring birth weight. Second, maternal adolescent depressive symptoms and adult SES partially mediated the association between maternal childhood SES and offspring birth weight. Third, adult SES partially mediated the association between maternal childhood SES and offspring birth weight. Fourth, maternal adolescent substance use and prenatal cigarette use partially mediated the association between maternal childhood maltreatment and offspring birth weight. Finally, maternal adolescent depressive symptoms and adult SES partially mediated the association between maternal childhood maltreatment and offspring birth weight. To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify maternal childhood maltreatment as an early life risk factor for offspring birth weight among a nationally representative sample of young women, and to demonstrate the mechanisms that link childhood SES and maltreatment to offspring birth weight. These findings suggest the importance of designing and implementing prevention and intervention strategies to address early life maternal social conditions in an effort to improve inter generational child health at birth.


Low birth weight Childhood socioeconomic status Childhood maltreatment Add Health Adolescent substance use Prenatal smoking 



This publication was made possible by Grant Number 1KL2RR025015-01 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amelia R. Gavin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elaine Thompson
    • 2
  • Tessa Rue
    • 3
  • Yuqing Guo
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.School of NursingUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Center for Biomedical StatisticsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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