Living in a majority-Black neighborhood linked to severe maternal morbidity

Penn Medicine researchers studied the association between neighborhood-level risk factors and poor maternal health outcomes in Philadelphia between 2010 and 2017.

Residents in majority-Black neighborhoods experience higher rates of severe pregnancy-related health problems than those living in predominantly-white areas, according to a new study of pregnancies at a Philadelphia-based health system, which was led by researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine. The findings, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, suggest that neighborhood-level public health interventions may be necessary in order to lower the rates of severe maternal morbidity—such as a heart attack, heart failure, eclampsia, or hysterectomy—and mortality in the United States.

African American pregnant person laying back on a couch with pregnant belly exposed.

The researchers retrospectively analyzed deliveries during a seven-year period at four hospitals within the University of Pennsylvania Health System and compared health outcomes to U.S. Census data. They found that the rate of severe maternal morbidity within a neighborhood increased by 2.4% with every 10% increase in the percentage of individuals in a Census tract who identified as Black or African American.

“Severe maternal morbidity disproportionately affects Black women. We know these differences are not genetic in etiology, but most likely due to structural racism and neighborhood-level risk factors,” says senior author Jessica R. Meeker, who led the research as a third-year doctoral candidate in epidemiology in the Perelman School of Medicine. “We wanted to explore this further and discovered that where you live is a key factor that affects maternal health outcomes.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.