Black women have a disproportionately high maternal death rate regardless of the circumstances in their local community, according to a new study.
A study released Monday from a team of researchers found that Black mothers disproportionately live in counties with higher maternal vulnerability but racial disparities exist in counties with low and high levels of vulnerability.
Black mothers living in the least vulnerable counties still have a higher risk of maternal mortality, preterm births and low birthweight compared to white mothers in the most vulnerable counties.
The researchers created a “maternal vulnerability index” to measure levels of vulnerability and maternal health. They included 13 million live births and maternal deaths for mothers aged 10 to 44 from 2014 to 2018 in the U.S.
The index is based on 43 determinants of maternal health. The determinants are grouped into six themes — reproductive health care, physical health, mental health and substance abuse, general health care, socioeconomic determinants and physical environment.
They quantified racial disparities to find the counties with the highest risk levels and estimate the association among race, vulnerability and maternal death, low birthweight and preterm birth.
The researchers calculated six scores for each of the themes and one overall score from 0 to 100, with 0 being the lowest vulnerability level and 100 being the highest. The counties where white women tended to live had an overall median score of 36, while the counties where Black women tended to live had a median score of 55.
Researchers concluded that mothers being more exposed to high community levels of vulnerability is associated with greater odds of “adverse” outcomes, but a disparity between white and Black mothers exists at all vulnerability levels.
Black women face a three to four times greater risk of maternal death compared to their white counterparts overall, while the percentage of low weight and preterm births for Black mothers is double that of white mothers, according to the researchers.
They said locally informed medical interventions and additional research into racism are needed to achieve greater health equity.