Babies born in the South are more likely to be born premature and underweight than those born elsewhere in the country.
Now, a new center at Duke University will spend five years studying the possible causes behind these births, including what roles environment, genes and socio-economic conditions play.
A nearly eight million-dollar grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will pay for the center, the first children's research center to focus on these issues in the South.
Premature births and low birth rates contribute to infant mortality. Progress had been made in reducing such births, but officials say they are starting to increase.
The study will include a voluntary psychological questionnaire given to hundreds of women who obtain obstetrics care.