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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland: Study Provides Data that Could Help to Reduce Racial Gap in Premature Births

A new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health is the first to make definitive statements about the factors contributing to the black-white disparity in preterm births. It is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

Black women are almost twice as likely to give birth prematurely than white women in the U.S. Babies born before 37 weeks are at risk of a range of health problems and more likely to die in infancy because their bodies and organ systems have not completely matured. The causes of preterm birth are varied, and the reasons for the racial differences have not been well understood.

“Our study applies a novel approach to examine disparities in preterm birth. We quantified how much the disparity could be reduced if we address determinants like socioeconomic and health factors,” said Dr. Marie Thoma, assistant professor of family science and the lead author of the study which analyzed national data on all live births during 2016 in the U.S. “With limited public health funds for interventions, we need to make sure that we are focused on the right things.”

Geographic differences, socioeconomic factors (such as education, marital and insurance status), and maternal health factors accounted for nearly 40 percent of the preterm births (< 37 weeks) and almost a third of the very preterm births (< 32 weeks) among black women. The largest contributing factors were socioeconomic and due to chronic high blood pressure (hypertension). 

“We found that pre-pregnancy hypertension was a significant driver in black-white disparities in preterm birth. We need to be focusing on interventions that can support women’s health and wellbeing before they become pregnant, or preconception health,”  Dr. Thoma said.

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