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Do mother’s education and foreign born status interact to influence birth outcomes? Clarifying the epidemiological paradox and the healthy migrant effect
  1. N Auger1,2,
  2. Z-C Luo3,
  3. R W Platt4,
  4. M Daniel5
  1. 1
    Unité Études et Analyses de l’Etat de Santé de la Population, Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  2. 2
    Département de Médecine Sociale et Préventive, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  3. 3
    Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Sainte-Justine Hospital, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  4. 4
    Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  5. 5
    School of Health Sciences, The University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
  1. Dr N Auger, MD, MSc, Institut national de santé publique du Québec, 190, boulevard Crémazie Est, Montréal, Québec H2P 1E2, Canada; nathalie.auger{at}


Introduction: The unresolved “epidemiological paradox” concerns the association between low socioeconomic status and unexpectedly favourable birth outcomes in foreign born mothers. The “healthy migrant” effect concerns the association between foreign born status per se and birth outcomes. The epidemiological paradox and healthy migrant effect were analysed for newborns in a favourable sociopolitical environment.

Methods: 98 330 live births to mothers in Montreal, Canada from 1997 to 2001 were analysed. Mothers were categorised as foreign born versus Canadian born. Outcomes were: small for gestational age (SGA) birth; low birth weight (LBW) and preterm birth (PTB). Multilevel logistic regression was used to examine the interaction between maternal education and foreign born status, adjusting for covariates.

Results: Not having a high school diploma was associated with LBW in Canadian (odds ratio (OR) 3.20; 95% CI 2.61 to 3.91) but not foreign born (OR 1.14; 95% CI 0.99 to 2.10) mothers and was more strongly associated with SGA birth in Canadian (OR 2.03; 95% CI 1.84 to 2.22) than in foreign born (OR 1.26; 95% CI 1.07 to 1.49) mothers. Foreign born status was associated with SGA birth (OR 1.37; 95% CI 1.28 to 1.47), LBW (OR 1.51; 95% CI 1.27 to 1.79) and PTB (OR 1.12; 95% CI 1.03 to 1.22) in university-educated mothers only.

Conclusions: The epidemiological paradox associated with low educational attainment was present for SGA birth and LBW but not PTB. Foreign born status was associated with adverse birth outcomes in university-educated mothers, the opposite of the healthy migrant effect.

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  • Funding: This research was supported by a seed grant from the Léa-Roback Centre de recherche sur les inégalités sociales de santé de Montréal, Québec, Canada. RWP and ZCL are supported by a Chercheur-boursier award from the Quebec Foundation for Health Research (FRSQ) and MD is supported by a Canada Research Chair award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The funding sources did not participate in study design, data collection, analysis or interpretation, writing of the report or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests: None.

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