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Texas’ Maternal Mortality Problem Is Also A Data Problem, Study Finds

The new study compares two periods of Texas’ maternal mortality data


Texas is over-reporting some of its maternal mortality data, a national study released today found.

The study, from the University of Maryland Population Research Center and published in the journal Birth, is a follow-up to a study released in August 2016 that found the maternal mortality rate in Texas had doubled in a two-year period.

Eugene Declercq, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, says he and other researchers didn't include Texas in their calculation of a national maternal mortality rate at that time because the data looked so unusual.

"The jump in Texas was so pronounced and so quick that we thought there was probably some kind of data anomaly at the heart of it," Declercq says. "You only see this kind of thing in disasters."

After finishing the 2016 study, the same researchers – Declercq, Marian MacDorman and Maria Thoma – focused specifically on Texas to try to figure out why the numbers were so high.

The new study compares two periods of Texas' maternal mortality data. Researchers looked at women who died while pregnant or shortly after giving birth between 2006 and 2010 and between 2011 and 2015.

They found an 87 percent spike in rates between those two periods.

MacDorman, a research professor at the University of Maryland Population Research Center, says when they looked closer they found that some of the spike could be because of over-reporting.

"The observed increase in maternal mortality in Texas from 2006-2010 to 2011-2015 is likely a result of both a true increase in rates and increased over-reporting of maternal deaths, as indicated by implausibly high and increasing rates for women aged ≥40 years and among nonspecific causes of death," the authors wrote in the study.

This highlights two “public health emergencies" in Texas, MacDorman says.

"One is a sharp increase in the maternal mortality rate in recent years," she says, "and two, a lack of reliable data to better characterize and further understand the increase."

Trends in Texas maternal mortality by maternal age, race/ethnicity and cause of death, 2011-2015.