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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds Maternal Mortality Rising in U.S., with Wide Disparities

Despite a worldwide decline in maternal mortality from 1990 to 2015, the incidence has risen in the US in recent years, with death rates of non-Hispanic black mothers almost three times those for whites and Hispanics, according to a new study co-authored by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher.

The study, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, reaffirms findings of widespread racial and ethnic disparities in mortality, with deaths of black women 2.8 times more likely than whites and 3.6 times more likely than Hispanics, in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

Researchers examining deaths of women while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy—based on a new US standard pregnancy question on death certificates—found that the maternal mortality rate increased by 23 percent from 2009 to 2014 in the 27 states and DC. The only significant increases in rates were for women ages 40 and older, which were 18 times higher than for women ages 25–29, the lowest risk group.

About one-third of the reported maternal deaths in 2013–2014 were of women 40 and older, compared with just 3 percent of live births, suggesting what the authors said was “a possible over-reporting of maternal deaths of older women” that should be further examined.

Study co-author Dr. Gene Declercq, professor of community health sciences at BU, said the study is further confirmation that maternal mortality in the US “continues to rise, at a time when it is dropping internationally.” He noted that while the U.S. “continues to have maternal mortality rates for non-Hispanic blacks that are several times that of whites, the rate for whites alone is still higher than virtually all other industrialized countries.”

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