CDC estimates of maternal mortality found overestimated


Cande Ananth, PhD, MPH, discusses a study exposing discrepancies in CDC maternal mortality data, highlighting errors in tracking methods and persistent racial disparities in maternal mortality rates.

In a recent interview, Cande Ananth, PhD, MPH, vice chair for Academic Affairs at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, discussed a study showcases changes in maternal mortality tracking methods.

The study evaluated US maternal mortality rates as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, maternal mortality rates are high, with a steady increase observed over the past decade.

Investigators evaluated the causes of death and found that maternal death checkbox sent out by the CDC has been used erroneously in some cases. For example, almost 147 women aged 85 years or older with death linked to maternal mortality. This indicates errors caused by the introduction of the checkbox.

By using the “causes of death” fields rather than assessing mortality based on the checkbox, investigators found significantly reduced maternal mortality rates compared to those reported by the CDC. While the CDC is aware of these errors, the organization continued to spread this information from 2018 to 2022.

Notably, the research identified a disparity in mortality rates between Black and White women even when discounting the checkbox. Maternal mortality is increased 3-fold to 4-fold among Black women when compared to White women, indicating a significant disparity that has remained persistent over time.

Individual states should come together when evaluating data for the CDC, according to Ananth. Overall, clinicians have adapted this data into their practice, making it valuable to report.

Ananth stated that every loss is insurmountable, but clinicians have worked to reduce rates of not only maternal mortality, but also serious maternal morbidity. While rates are lower than the CDC estimates, doctors should continue this work to reduce the rates even further.

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