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October 1, 2008
Corrected on 10/02/08: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly identified the journal where a study was published; it should be the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It also incorrectly stated that Algeria is part of the Bight of Biafra region.
Focusing on someone's race or ethnicity, whether in politics or social settings, is widely frowned upon these days—a very good thing. In medicine, though, your ethnic background can play a crucial role in determining certain health risks. Because of my and my husband's eastern European-Jewish background, for instance, I was warned that we had an increased likelihood of giving birth to a baby with the deadly Tay-Sachs disease, which led us to get genetic screening. (Luckily, we weren't carriers.)
Sometimes, ethnic differences can pose risks for a couple. I was quite surprised by a new finding showing that Asian women married to white men had a 30 percent higher rate of cesarean sections compared with Asian or white couples and white women married to Asian men. The researchers gave a plausible reason why: Previous studies have shown that the average Asian woman's pelvis is smaller than the average white woman's and thus less able to accommodate babies of a certain size. "We're certainly not concluding that these women always need C-sections," says study coauthor Yasser El-Sayed, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Stanford University Medical Center. But he would be less likely to allow a prolonged labor to continue for hours in such women because a vaginal delivery would be very unlikely.