December 2021: Over-policing linked to higher odds of preterm birth

Associate Professor Rachel Hardeman found that U.S.-born Black birthing people living in areas with high police contact experienced a 100% higher chance of preterm birth compared to residents in low-contact areas. 


This article is derived from an original version posted on the School of Public Health’s website. Content was added to highlight the Minnesota Population Center’s contributions to the study. 

New research from members of the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) links the stress of living in an over-policed neighborhood with higher odds of preterm birth for both Black and white birthing people — but most severely for Black residents. Preterm birth, defined as birth before 37 weeks of gestation, raises the risk of long-term health problems for babies.

The study, led by Rachel Hardeman, MPC Member, associate professor, and director of the SPH Center for Antiracism Research and Health Equity (CARHE), was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Open Network. Hardeman is a national expert in racial reproductive health disparities, including the role of over-policing in Black birth disparities. The work was co-authored by MPC members and trainee alumni, including Tongtan Chantarat, Morrison Luke Smith, J’Mag Karbeah, and David C. Van Riper as well as Dara D. Mendez from University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

A growing body of research reveals the physiological harms of police encounters, particularly for Black people. This study adds to that research, showing how racist policing practices hurt birthing people and their babies.

“Racism is a fundamental cause of health inequity, which means we have to apply antiracism to institutions that affect the fundamentals of our lives and communities,” said Hardeman. “Our research focused on residents of Minneapolis and found that U.S.-born Black birthing people and their babies were hit the hardest by over-policing, which is a form of structural racism.”

Hardeman’s study team examined medical record data of 745 white, 121 U.S.-born Black, and 193 non–U.S.-born Black Minneapolis residents who gave birth to single babies at a large health system between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. The researchers then looked at where the residents lived in Minneapolis and determined if they were in neighborhoods that had high police contact, defined as areas within the highest statistical quarter of police activity in the city.

The research found:

  • In high police-contact neighborhoods, all birthing people had higher odds of preterm birth, indicating that the stress of over-policing is harmful regardless of race. 
  • White birthing people living in high police contact neighborhoods experienced a 90% higher chance of preterm birth compared to residents in low-contact areas.
  • U.S.-born Black birthing people in high-contact areas experienced a 100% higher chance of preterm birth compared to residents in low-contact areas. 
  • Foreign-born Black birthing people in high-contact areas showed only a 10% higher chance for preterm birth. This is explained by what researchers call the “immigrant paradox,” which states that Black immigrants who didn’t grow up weathering structural racism have far better health outcomes than Black individuals who were born and raised in America. 
  • The researchers also found that Black neighborhoods are disproportionately over-policed compared to white neighborhoods.

“Our results show that over-policing is bad for everyone, but that the burden is not shared equally,” said Hardeman. “The difference between U.S.-born and non-U.S.-born Black birthing people also reveals that racism — and not race — creates health inequities between Black people and their white counterparts.”

If the cause of higher preterm birth rates among U.S. and non-U.S.-born Black birthing people was purely biological due to their race, both groups would have had similar results. Instead, the research shows that non-U.S.–born Black birthing people have far healthier pregnancies and babies than their U.S.-born counterparts, proving that the difference is whether or not they experienced long-term exposure to over-policing structural racism. 

“Racism is a fixable problem,” said Hardeman. “Community health needs to be a priority for public safety reform, and the voices and needs of Black, Indigenous, and people of color need to be prioritized.”

Funding for this study was provided from the Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy at the University of Minnesota. Additional support by the Minnesota Population Center, which is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant No: P2C HD041023). Medical record data was provided by the University of Minnesota’s Best Practices Informatics Consulting Group.

This work benefited from the MPC Short-Term Research Assistant program, which provides the services of a qualified research assistant to MPC members free of charge. One of the co-authors, Morrison Luke Smith, started on the project while serving as the short-term research assistant. Learn more about the program and how to become an MPC member

About the Center for Antiracist Research for and Health Equity

The SPH Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity (CARHE), supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, uses revolutionary antiracist research techniques to explore how systems, policies, social structures and historical influences create the conditions for health inequities. In its pursuit to address and uproot structural racism’s impact on health and healthcare, CARHE produces antiracist research findings, changes the narrative around race and racism, produces equitable policy solutions, and influences community interventions.

In the News: 

November 2021: MPC Population Dynamics Barn-raising

Please hold the date for our first-ever biannual MPC Population Dynamics Barn-raising (PDB) to be held from 12:15pm to 5pm on Monday, November 8. The theme for this half-day event is "Building Interdisciplinary Collaborations for Population Dynamics COVID Research." Please invite any and all colleagues you know who might be interested. Share with your networks!

Due to COVID safety concerns, this event will be held in a hybrid format. Join us for the full PDB or for one or more of the sessions:

Virtual Panel Discussion: From 12:15pm to 1:30pm join us virtually for a moderated panel discussion on "Population Causes and Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic."  |  Zoom Link

  • Marc Bellemare, Applied Economics, University of Minnesota
  • Susan Marshall Mason, Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota
  • Alyssa Morris, Psychology, University of Southern California
  • Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, Sociology, University of Minnesota
  • Moderator: Claire Kamp Dush, Sociology, University of Minnesota

In-Person Poster Session: From 2:00pm to 3:30pm we invite you to participate in an in-person, low pressure poster session in the wide-open expanse of 120 Anderson Library (masks will be required). We invite you to present a poster* (we'll even print it for you!): learn more and sign up here. Posters should be brief presentations of ongoing or planned COVID-related research projects and/or presentations of COVID-related data resources suitable for population-level research. Our goal is to help connect researchers with each other and with the data they need to conduct their research.

In-Person Research Mixer: From 3:45 to 5:00 we'll head outside of 29 Willey Hall--just down the outdoor steps from Anderson Library--to mix and mingle and discuss COVID-related research and how MPC can support your ongoing or planned work. Food and drinks will be served. RSVP requested.

October 2021: MPC Leadership Transition

Exciting news for the Minnesota Population Center! After 5+ years of leading the MPC, Director Rob Warren will be stepping down at the end of this calendar year. Thank you to Rob for all of your many years of service and leading the MPC through such a time of growth and excellence.

We are excited to announce Theresa Osypuk will be stepping up into the role of MPC Director. Theresa is Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health, in the School of Public Health. She is a social epidemiologist, demographer, and population health scientist. Theresa has served as the Associate Director of the MPC for over 2 years, and she is also co-Director (along with Rob Warren) of the NICHD-funded T32 training program in Population Health, which is housed at MPC. Theresa has cultivated a record as a Principal Investigator of NIH grants since 2010, focused on housing policy, neighborhood environment, racial residential segregation, and health equity. During these next few months, Theresa and Rob will be working together to make this transition as seamless as possible.

October 2021: Geographically targeted COVID-19 vaccination is more equitable and averts more deaths than age-based thresholds alone

MPC Members: Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, David Van Riper, Jonathon P. Leider 

Published in the journal Science Advances 

COVID-19 mortality increases markedly with age and is also substantially higher among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations in the United States. These two facts can have conflicting implications because BIPOC populations are younger than white populations. In analyses of California and Minnesota—demographically divergent states—the researchers show that COVID vaccination schedules based solely on age benefit the older white populations at the expense of younger BIPOC populations with higher risk of death from COVID-19. They find that strategies that prioritize high-risk geographic areas for vaccination at all ages better target mortality risk than age-based strategies alone, although they do not always perform as well as direct prioritization of high-risk racial/ethnic groups. Vaccination schemas directly implicate equitability of access, both domestically and globally.

Read Elizabeth Wrigley-Field's summary in this Twitter thread

Watch a video of Elizabeth Wrigley-Field talking about this research. 

Still of video showing Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

September 2021: Using Data to Understand the Risks and Impacts of Climate Change

Minnesota Population Center (MPC) members Eric Shook and Steven Manson will be part of a new national initiative to enable geospatial data-driven scientific discovery to better understand the risks and impacts of climate change. Manson and Shook will work with collaborators and partner institutions from around the country with the newly created Institute for Geospatial Understanding through an Integrative Discovery Environment (I-GUIDE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (U of I). The new institute will receive $15-million in funding over five years as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Harnessing the Data Revolution, which establishes five institutes across the United States to explore questions at the frontiers of science and engineering. The MPC will also collaborate with I-GUIDE through support staff and likely host a postdoctoral position associated with the project.

“The goal of I-GUIDE is to revolutionize theories, concepts, methods, and tools focused on data-intensive geospatial understanding for driving innovative cyberGIS and cyberinfrastructure capabilities to address the most pressing resilience and sustainability challenges of our world such as biodiversity, food security, and water security,” said Shaowen Wang, head of the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science at U of I and founding director of the CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies (CyberGIS Center), who will lead the institute.

I-GUIDE aims to drive transformative advances across many fields from computer, data, and information sciences to atmospheric sciences, ecology, economics, environmental science and engineering, human-environment and geographical sciences, hydrology and water sciences, industrial engineering, sociology, and statistics.

Shook and Manson are building on a strong foundation of work supported by the MPC and the Department  of Geography, Environment, and Society in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). Shook heads the CLA-funded Geocommons, which will host I-GUIDE collaborative research, and leads the NSF-funded project CyberTraining: Hour of Cyberinfrastructure: Developing Cyber Literacy for Geographic Information Science, which will support the larger multi-institutional project.  I-GUIDE also draws on several MPC efforts, including the projects for which Manson is the principal investigator, the IPUMS National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) and IPUMS International Historical Geographic Information System (IHGIS). NHGIS and IHGIS will develop data with I-GUIDE partners to address a range of human-environment challenges in the US and beyond.

The new institute will bring together about 40 researchers from University of Minnesota, U of I, Columbia University, Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc., Florida International University, Michigan State University, Open Geospatial Consortium, Purdue University, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Utah State University, and a variety of other partners 

I-GUIDE “creates a novel geospatial discovery environment for synthesizing data on geographically referenced social, economic, ecological, and environmental factors to better understand the risk and impacts of climate change and disasters,” the NSF reported, in a press release. Wang added, “I-GUIDE nurtures a diverse and inclusive geospatial discovery community across many disciplines by bridging disciplinary digital data divides with broader impacts amplified through a well-trained and diverse workforce and proactive engagement of minority and underrepresented groups.“

In all, NSF is investing $75 million to establish five new Harnessing the Data Revolution Institutes as part of its “Big Ideas” initiative. 

“NSF’s Big Ideas are a set of 10 bold, long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering and represent unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergent research,” said Manish Parashar, office director for the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at NSF.