A total of 35,529 pregnancies with early access to prenatal care were reviewed for this analysis. Race was distributed in the population in the following manner: 5% black, 22% Hispanic, 68% white, and 5% other. A total of fifteen patients indicated more than one race and were assigned to a single minority population. None of these patients experienced a perinatal loss. The demographic differences between the study populations are depicted in Table 1. Demographic characteristics were significantly different between the racial groups. In more general terms, members of all the minority races had higher BMIs, reported increased use of antihypertensive medication before pregnancy, and were more likely to have had pregestational diabetes than the white (referent) race. The black and Hispanic populations were younger, had fewer years of formal education, and were less likely to be married than the white and other populations. The black population reported nearly twice the rate of smoking and four times the rate of antihypertensive medication use before pregnancy compared with the white population. The black population was also most likely to have used illicit drugs while members of the white population were most likely to have consumed alcohol during the pregnancy. The distribution of pregnancy complications among the various races is depicted in Table 2. All minority races experienced higher rates of IUGR, preeclampsia, preterm PROM, gestational diabetes, placenta previa, preterm birth, very preterm birth, cesarean delivery, light vaginal bleeding, and heavy vaginal bleeding compared with the white population.
The frequency of perinatal mortality for the entire study population was 13 per 1,000 (471/35,529) and race specific perinatal mortality varied from 10 to 42 per 1,000 (Table 3). The incidence and timing of the perinatal loss sustained by each race are depicted in Table 3.
Utilizing the white population as the referent population, odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals were generated to explore the crude effect of race on the incidence of perinatal mortality: black 4.3 (3.3–5.6), Hispanic 1.6 (1.3–2.0), and other 1.7 (1.1–2.5). All minorities experienced significantly more perinatal mortality with the black population having the highest number, followed by the other and Hispanic populations, respectively (Table 3). The black population, which comprised only 5% of the study population, had 16% of the perinatal mortality. In addition, the black population sustained significantly more loss at each and every interval throughout the pregnancy and the neonatal period. After controlling for the 14 demographic characteristics listed in Table 1 and site of enrollment, race remained a significant predictor of perinatal mortality in all three groups (Table 3). To assess possible confounding effects of patient demographics, enrollment site, and pregnancy complications on the observed racial disparities, a fully adjusted model was developed. This model incorporated all 14 variables in Table 1 and site of enrollment along with the following pregnancy complications: gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, IUGR, gestational diabetes, and preterm PROM. After adjustment for these variables, the following odds ratios (with 95% confidence intervals) for perinatal mortality were generated: black 3.5 (2.5–4.9), Hispanic 1.5 (1.2–2.1), and other 1.9 (1.3–2.8). Secondary exploratory analyses revealed the single most important predictor of perinatal mortality in the study population was preterm PROM. This complication occurred in 67 (14%) of the 471 perinatal losses. When the sample was stratified by the occurrence of preterm PROM (subgroups of women with and without preterm PROM) the effect of black race persisted in both subgroups. The odds ratios (95% confidence interval) for perinatal mortality in women with and without preterm PROM were 5.5 (2.3–13.0) and 2.8 (2.0–3.8), respectively, for black as compared with white women.
When the definition of perinatal mortality was restricted to a fetal demise at 24 or more weeks of gestation and a neonatal demise, the overall perinatal mortality rate for the entire study population decreased to 4 per 1,000 (146/35,529). However, racial disparities in both the crude and adjusted models remain and are presented in Table 3.
Despite first-trimester initiation of prenatal care, minority pregnancies experienced more perinatal mortality when compared with pregnancies in the white population. The persistence of excess perinatal mortality in the minority populations after controlling for differences in patient demographics, pregnancy complications, and site of enrollment implicates race as an independent etiologic factor. However, the knowledge that genetic diversity exists as a continuum, with no clear genetic breaks delineating these categories,8 renders this conclusion untenable. Once an immutable genetic explanation is removed from consideration, optimism is fostered by the knowledge that all other causative factors should be responsive to the appropriate intervention(s).
Perhaps the etiology can be found not in race but in the components that are inherent to race. Cultural differences often parallel racial and ethnic lines and manifest as variations in nutrition, stress, and compliance with accepted medical standards as well as countless other variables. The ability to identify and capture the individual contributions of the innumerable components of a population’s culture represents a formidable task. The difficulty of this task is only increased when the search is limited to the finite period of time encompassing a pregnancy. The integration of pediatric, obstetric, and geriatric databases enabling the study of generations of individual families has been proposed as a model to uncover and pursue the implications of such variables.9
Low birth weight is a significant contributor to neonatal and infant morbidity and mortality.10 Review of national data reveals a nearly 2-fold incidence of low birth weight in the black population compared with the white population.11 However, birth weight patterns of infants of African-born blacks have been found to more closely resemble American-born whites than American-born blacks.12 Similar negative effects on birth weight have been observed in the Hispanic community when stratifying by maternal natality.13 These observations suggest a specific etiologic factor or factors endemic to American-born minorities. The effect of birth weight was not assessed in the above analysis and may have contributed to the neonatal component of perinatal mortality.
The majority of the fetal losses in the study population occurred before 24 weeks of gestation. The low perinatal mortality rate observed after the omission of this first interval was likely achieved by the exclusion of multiple gestations, major structural anomalies, and fetuses with aneuploidy. Preterm PROM occurred more often in minority races and may have functioned as a surrogate for intrauterine infection.
Among the strengths of this study is the prospective nature in which the data were collected and the inclusion of a large, unselected obstetric population. These patients represent those cared for by physicians in private offices in the various communities, resident clinics at numerous teaching centers, and the private offices of academicians in tertiary care medical centers.
Obstetric-related epidemiological questions have traditionally been addressed utilizing large state or national datasets based on birth certificate data. The validity of these datasets has been challenged in multiple publications.14–17 This study entailed a secondary analysis of the FASTER trial database which was compiled by trained research nurses through direct patient contact and chart review. However, the original study design was not powered to detect racial or ethnic disparities in perinatal mortality. Some caution is warranted in the interpretation of our results, especially in those outcomes with small numbers and wide confidence intervals. Nevertheless, these findings are among the largest prospective validations, in a contemporary population, of previously reported findings based on national data.1,18
The factors commonly used in the determination of adequacy of care include the timing of initiation, total number of visits, and the gestational age of delivery.19 Although the timing of initiation of care may be stipulated by enrollment in the FASTER trial, the frequency of visits and its relationship to the timing of delivery were not evaluated. In addition, the content of prenatal visits was not assessed. Differences in content, specifically the degree in which ultrasonography, amniocentesis, and tocolytics are used, has been shown to vary between racial groups.20
Membership in a particular race was self-reported by all patients included in the study. This technique may be limited by multiple factors, including the failure to identify patients and pregnancies of mixed racial heritage. The utilization of the recoding algorithm for women who indicated more than one race served only to decrease the rates of perinatal mortality in minority populations as none of these women had a perinatal loss. In addition, the extent of participation in activities which have known detrimental effects on obstetric performance, such as smoking and illicit drug use during pregnancy, may have been underreported by study participants.
Racial disparities in health outcomes are prevalent in the United States. Review of national data from 1990 to 2002 demonstrates no change in the non-Hispanic black/non-Hispanic white ratio of perinatal mortality and a 5% increase in the fetal mortality ratio of these two groups.21 Differences in perinatal mortality comprise only a small piece of this complex puzzle. However, as the differences observed in the perinatal period and infancy are believed to play a role in the acquisition of pathology diagnosed later in life,22 the elimination of these racial disparities must be considered of paramount importance. There is no doubt that the future will bring increased perinatal survival and the improvement in survival will benefit all races. However, the disparities between white and nonwhite populations will continue unless specific etiologies are identified and interventions are developed. Prenatal care, although unequivocally helpful and necessary, remains insufficient in its present form for minority women. Therefore, increasing early access to current prenatal care systems in the effort to minimize racial and ethnic disparities in perinatal mortality is insufficient.
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Members of the FASTER Research Consortium: K. Welch, MS, R. Denchy, MS (Columbia University, NY, NY); R. Ball, MD, M. Belfort, MD, B. Oshiro, MD, L. Cannon, BS, K. Nelson, BSN, C. Loucks, RNC, A. Yoshimura (University of Utah, and IHC Perinatal Centers, Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden, UT); D. Nyberg, MD, S. Coe, MS (Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, WA); D. Schmidt, MS, J. Esler, BS (William Beaumont Medical Center, Royal Oak, MI); R. Bukowski, MD, G. Hankins, MD, J. Lee, MS, (UTMB Galveston, TX); K. Eddleman, MD, Y. Kharbutli, MS (Mount Sinai Medical Center, NY, NY); I. Merkatz, MD, S. Gross, MD, S. Carter, MS (Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY); J. Hobbins, MD, L. Schultz, RN (University of Colorado Health Science Center, Denver, CO); M. Paidas, MD, J. Borsuk, MS (NYU Medical Center, NY, NY); B. Isquith, MS, B. Berlin, MS (Tufts University, Boston, MA); J. Canick, PhD, G. Lambert-Messerlian, PhD, C. Duquette, RDMS (Brown University, Providence, RI); R. Baughman, MS (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC); J. Hanson, MD, F. de la Cruz, MD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development); J. Vidaver, MA, T. Tripp, MA, D. Emig, MPH, K. Dukes, PhD (DM-STAT, Inc, Medford, MA).
© 2006 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists