12 Percent of Black Women Have Preterm Births, Researchers Determined to Find Solutions

Preterm births are more prevalent amongst Black women. A recent study revealed that Black women have significantly more preterm births than white women do, and while researchers attribute nearly a third of the cases to heart issues and social factors, the rest remain a mystery.

However, researchers say they are determined to find those unknown factors to ultimately improve birth outcomes for Black women. Scientists have already discovered that social determinants of health include factors such as income, education, insurance and access to care.

“This is important because this represents a large number of individuals who are being born early every year that have much higher risk for bad health outcomes and is significantly different between non-Hispanic Black and white individuals,” said author Dr. Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Preterm births in Black women also contribute to health disparities throughout life. Premature babies have more heart disease as adults and experts say, being born early is also linked to developmental delays.

Researchers found that in 2019, nearly 12 percent of Black people had preterm births compared with seven percent of white people. Heart health before pregnancy explained eight percent of this. Social determinants were responsible for another 20 percent of the racial gap.

According to researchers, this is the first kind of study that helps explain which of the individual-level maternal health factors contribute to preterm births amongst Black women. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, socioeconomic factors such as  insurance, prenatal care and education have all been researched to determine how to improve birth outcomes.

“Differences that occur when someone is born early can have important implications not just for the first year of life, but also throughout their life,” Khan said in a university news release.

Researchers included data from more than 2 million people who had a live birth in 2019. It also used information from birth registration records from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, which collects data on all live births.

“Preterm birth is the starting point for racial differences across the life course, not just in childhood,” Khan said.

However, Khan remains alarmed by the recent loss of Medicaid for millions of Americans. Recently, more than 1 million people were dropped from Medicaid in the past couple months as some states decided to halt health care coverage following the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you don’t have health insurance when you become pregnant, you are much less likely to get prenatal or cardiovascular care,” Khan said. “Prenatal care in the first trimester is critical to improving birth outcomes.”

“We need to understand the problem so we can fix it,” Khan said. “Understanding racial differences in preterm birth is critical to identifying opportunities for prevention and awareness.”

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019 revealed that pervasive coverage disparities remain for Black women. Nearly 14 percent of Black women are uninsured, compared to eight percent of white women.

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