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Racial gap cited in Calif. maternal mortality

Associated Press / April 27, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — Maternal mortality is on the rise in California, with African-American mothers roughly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than women in any other racial or ethnic groups, state health officials reported yesterday.

The overall rate of maternal deaths in 1999 was eight per 100,000 live births, and by 2008 that number had risen to 14 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to a California Department of Public Health study that cites federal statistics.

In a breakdown, the maternal mortality rate among African-American women was 36.1 per 100,000 live births, compared to 9.6 for white women and 8.5 for Hispanic women in 2008.

“That’s very concerning, and it’s a widening gap,’’ said Dr. Connie Mitchell, the study’s lead author.

To address the problem, state officials have expanded the Black Infant Health Program in the past year to include more outreach and information for black mothers-to-be, providing group sessions to keep tabs on progress through a healthy pregnancy, according to Mitchell.

Black mothers tend to have diabetes and high blood pressure at higher rates than other groups, and Mitchell said the program has provided information on improving those conditions.

Low-income women and women with less education were also more likely to face deadly complications in childbirth.

The study found that a number of factors affect maternal mortality, including the increasing age of mothers and the prevalence of maternal chronic conditions such as obesity.

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