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Press Release

February 20, 2003
Contact: Laura Leathers
(770) 488–5131

CDC Reports Pregnancy-Related Deaths Still Higher in Black Women than White Women

Black women have three to four times the risk of a pregnancy-related death when compared with white women, says a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pregnancy-Related Mortality Surveillance—United States, 1991-1999, released today.

The pregnancy-related mortality ratio for all women for the years 1991 through 1998 was 11.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. The risk of death from complications related to pregnancy remains higher than the nation’s Healthy People 2010 objective: no more than 3.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Pregnancy-related deaths are rare; 525 occurred in 1999. However, significant racial disparities persist. During the nine-year study period, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for black women was 30.0 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 8.1 for white women. This is the largest racial gap of any indicator in the field of maternal and child health and has persisted for more than 60 years.

“Any pregnancy-related death is one too many,” said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “We must focus our research on finding ways to reduce these deaths. We especially need to concentrate on eliminating racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths.”

The CDC report also found a greater risk of pregnancy-related deaths among older women and those who received no prenatal care. The risk for pregnancy-related death increased sharply for women aged 35 and older, and the risk for women 40 and older was four times the risk for women aged 30-34. For each age category, black women were at a higher risk of death than white women. Among all age groups, women who received no prenatal care were three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than women who received any care; that risk was even higher for black women.

Data published in the report are from CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System (PMSS). PMSS collects data on pregnancy-related deaths through state health departments, maternal mortality review committees, the media, and individual providers. Improved identification of pregnancy-related deaths in recent years has likely led to the reported increase in the pregnancy-related mortality ratio. However, the report authors say that pregnancy-related deaths are still underreported and that the number of deaths related to pregnancy may increase significantly with more active surveillance.

“Complete and consistent reporting involves a thorough review of the medical and social circumstances of every pregnancy-related death so that we can better understand the effects of medical care, socioeconomic status, prenatal care, social environment, and lifestyle,” said Jeani Chang, an epidemiologist with CDC's reproductive health program and senior author of the report.

CDC is responding to the problem of complications and deaths related to pregnancy by collaborating with The Safe Motherhood Initiative, a broad coalition of agencies, organizations, and professionals to address research and policy issues on this topic. Learn more at

Strategies to Reduce Pregnancy-Related Deaths: From Identification to Action is a guide to help states identify maternal deaths and develop prevention programs (for information on how to order, visit: Research continues on why black women are at greater risk than white women for maternal death.

For more information about CDC’s reproductive health program, visit

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CDC protects people's health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national, and international organizations.


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This page last updated February 20, 2003

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