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Earthquakes and Low Infant Birth Weight in Chile

By Taylor Marvin

Recently I’ve mentioned finishing up a research thesis I worked on in my last few quarters at UCSD, which focused on the link between earthquakes and the incidence of low birth weight pregnancies in Chile. I studied abroad in Chile and disaster studies are one of my biggest research interests, so the project was interesting and satisfying to complete. Here’s the abstract if anyone’s interested:

There is strong evidence that earthquake-induced psychiatric morbidity can increase the incidence of low birth weight pregnancy in the aftermath of disasters, though the prevalence of this effect is unclear. This paper examines a random sample of 13,500 Chilean births between 2006 and 2009, during which 3,870 pregnancies were impacted by five major earthquakes ranging from 6.2 to 7.7 on the moment magnitude scale. The results show a small but significant positive correlation between earthquake intensity and the incidence of low birth weight pregnancies in Chile, with earthquake intensity during the third trimester associated with an increased incidence of low birth weight pregnancies. A stronger relationship is likely only present after earthquakes more destructive than those occurring during the 2006 – 2009 period. Diagnoses of adverse maternal mental health conditions in pregnant women are shown to be positively associated with earthquake intensity during the first trimester, while no link between earthquake intensity and length of pregnancy is found. This paper supports existing estimations of the overall incidence of low infant birth weight in Chile, and replicates previously reported socioeconomic determinates of low birth weight.