Very low birthweight: Dysregulated gestation versus evolutionary adaptation

Ralph Catalano, Deborah Karasek, Alison Gemmill, April Falconi, Julia Goodman, Aristotle Magganas, Terry Hartig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Much medical literature attributes persistently high rates of very low birthweight (VLBW) to "dysregulated" gestation. We offer the alternative view that natural selection conserved well-regulated, though nonconscious, decisional biology that protects the reproductive fitness of women by spontaneously aborting gestations that would otherwise yield frail infants, particularly small males. Modern obstetric practice, however, converts some fraction of these erstwhile spontaneous abortions into live births of very small infants. We further propose that the nonconscious decisional biology of gestation exhibits preferences also seen in consciously made decisions. We hypothesize that the incidence of VLBW among male infants should vary with the population's self-reported intentions to assume financial risk. We apply time-series modeling to monthly birth counts by sex and weight from the Swedish Medical Birth Registry between January 1993 and December 2010. We gauge risk aversion with monthly data from the Micro Index of the Swedish Consumer Tendency Survey (MISCT). Consistent with our argument that nonconscious decisional biology shares risk aversion with conscious decisions, we find that the incidence of VLBW among male infants in Sweden varies with the population's self-reported intentions to assume financial risk. We find increases above expected odds of a very low weight infant among males born 1 month after increases above expected levels of self-reported risk aversion in the Swedish population. We offer this finding as support for the argument that persistently high rates of VLBW arise, at least in part, from a combination of medical interventions and mechanisms conserved by natural selection to protect reproductive fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-242
Number of pages6
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume108
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Decision-making
  • Economy
  • Perinatal health
  • Risk aversion
  • Selection in utero
  • Sweden
  • Very low birthweight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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