Background: Area-level deprivation is associated with multiple adverse birth outcomes. Few studies have examined the mediating pathways through which area-level deprivation affects these outcomes. The objective of this study was to investigate the association between area-level deprivation and preterm birth, and examine the mediating effects of maternal medical, behavioural, and psychosocial factors.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study using national, commercial health insurance claims data from 2011, obtained from the Health Care Cost Institute. Area-level deprivation was derived from principal components methods using ZIP code-level data. Multilevel structural equation modeling was used to examine mediating effects.
Results: In total, 138,487 women with a live singleton birth residing in 14,577 ZIP codes throughout the United States were included. Overall, 5.7% of women had a preterm birth. In fully adjusted generalized estimation equation models, compared to women in the lowest quartile of area-level deprivation, odds of preterm birth increased by 9.6% among women in the second highest quartile (odds ratio (OR) 1.096; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.021, 1.176), by 11.3% in the third highest quartile (OR 1.113; 95% CI 1.035, 1.195), and by 24.9% in the highest quartile (OR 1.249; 95% CI 1.165, 1.339). Hypertension and infection moderately mediated this association.
Conclusions: Even among commercially-insured women, area-level deprivation was associated with increased risk of preterm birth. Similar to individual socioeconomic status, area-level deprivation does not have a threshold effect. Implementation of policies to reduce area-level deprivation, and the screening and treatment of maternal mediators may be associated with a lower risk of preterm birth.