Structural Racism and Adverse Maternal Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review

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Health & Place

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In the United States, racial disparities in adverse maternal health outcomes remain a pressing issue, with Black women experiencing a 3-4 times higher risk of maternal mortality and a 2-3 times higher risk of severe maternal morbidity. Despite recent encouraging efforts, fundamental determinants of these alarming inequities (e.g. structural racism) remain understudied. Approaches that address these structural drivers are needed to then intervene upon root causes of adverse maternal outcomes and their disparities and to ultimately improve maternal health across the U.S. In this paper, we offer a conceptual framework for studies of structural racism and maternal health disparities and systematically synthesize the current empirical epidemiologic literature on the links between structural racism measures and adverse maternal health outcomes. For the systematic review, we searched electronic databases (Pubmed, Web of Science, and EMBASE) to identify peer-reviewed U.S. based quantitative articles published between 1990 and 2021 that assessed the link between measures of structural racism and indicators of maternal morbidity/mortality. Our search yielded 2394 studies and after removing duplicates, 1408 were included in the title and abstract screening, of which 18 were included in the full text screening. Only 6 studies met all the specified inclusion criteria for this review. Results revealed that depending on population sub-group analyzed, measures used, and covariates considered, there was evidence that structural racism may increase the risk of adverse maternal health outcomes. This review also highlighted several areas for methodological and theoretical development in this body of work. Future work should more comprehensively assess structural racism in a way that informs policy and interventions, which can ameliorate its negative consequences on racial/ethnic disparities in maternal morbidity/mortality.


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