Preconception Wellness

Differences in Health by Immigrant Status

While other research has compared birth outcomes of immigrant and U.S.-born women—including that immigrant women have better birth outcomes—less is known about health status of nonpregnant women of childbearing age. A woman’s health behaviors before pregnancy correlate directly with birth outcomes.

Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2006), researchers tested the hypothesis that behavioral risk factors vary between pregnant and nonpregnant women with significant immigrant disparities.

Data on women aged 12 to 44 of various race/ethnicities were categorized based on pregnancy and immigration status. Among the significant findings:

  • Pregnant U.S.-born women were 5.2 times more likely to report illicit drug use than pregnant foreign-born women.
  • Nonpregnant U.S.-born women were 7.6 times more likely to smoke; 3.7 times more likely to report illicit drug use; 2.0 times more likely to binge drink; and 45 percent less likely to have a normal body mass index than nonpregnant foreign-born women. U.S.-born nonpregnant women were also 1.6 times more likely to engage in moderate physical activity and 1.7 times more likely to use birth control.

These findings highlight “unacceptably high” prevalence of nonpregnant U.S.-born women who engage in harmful behaviors and who are overweight or obese.