New Report Shows Decline in Stillbirths But Racial Disparities Persist

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The rate of fetal deaths, also known as stillbirths, occurring at 20 weeks of gestation or more declined substantially between 1990 and 2003, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although fetal mortality rates declined among all racial and ethnic groups from 1990-2003, the fetal mortality rate for non-Hispanic black women was more than double that of non-Hispanic white women (11.56 per 1,000 vs. 4.94 per 1,000).

"While we can see that progress has been made in preventing fetal mortality, it is also clear that substantial disparities remain along race and ethnic lines, said Marian MacDorman, Ph.D., lead author of the report.

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The report, "Fetal and Perinatal Mortality, United States: 2003," was prepared by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and looks at fetal deaths (stillbirths) as well as perinatal deaths (deaths occurring soon before or soon after birth).

Other findings include:

  • The fetal mortality rate (number of fetal deaths per 1,000 live births and fetal deaths) declined steadily by an average of 1.4 percent per year from 1990-2003.
  • The decline in the fetal mortality rate since 1990 occurred among pregnancies 28 weeks of gestation and longer; the fetal death rate for pregnancies 20-27 weeks of gestation has changed little since 1990.
  • The rate for American Indian women (6.09 per 1,000) was 24 percent higher than that for non-Hispanic white women, while the rate for Hispanic women (5.46 per 1,000) was slightly higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white women. The rate for Asian or Pacific Islander women (4.98 per 1,000) was similar to that of non-Hispanic white women.

Relatively little is known about the causes of fetal mortality. However, recent research has identified a variety of risk factors, including smoking during pregnancy, maternal obesity, severe or uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, placental and cord problems, intrauterine growth retardation, and a woman having a previous perinatal death.

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