Mapping Morbidity: What ZIP Codes Can Say About Maternal Health
By Sean Price Texas Medicine October 2018

The five-digit number is more than just a postal code or geographic location. 

For medicine, a ZIP code can predict how likely someone will contract cancer or diabetes — or even help calculate someone’s potential lifespan. (See “Code of Life,” May 2018 Texas Medicine, www.texmed.org/CodeOfLife.) It can also show where pregnant women in Texas face the greatest health risks, according to a new mapping tool developed by The University of Texas System and UT Health Science Center at Tyler. 

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The project highlights some of the most important risk factors facing new moms: smoking during pregnancy, pre-pregnancy obesity, and use of prenatal care. It’s based on 2013-15 birth records and includes a variety of searchable online maps. 

The maps are useful for Texas physicians because of the state’s high rates of maternal mortality and illness. In 2012, Texas’ maternal mortality rate was between 14.6 and 18.6 deaths per 100,000, compared with the national average of 15.9. White women in Texas overall have a maternal death rate of 13.6 per 100,000 live births; for African-American Texans, the rate is 27.8, according to research by the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force.

Nearly 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in 2012 could have been prevented with proper intervention, the task force recently concluded.

“As Texas moves forward with efforts to improve maternal health, it is important that we understand how some of the key risk factors vary widely even within cities,” said David Lakey, MD, vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer for UT System. “This [mapping tool] will allow us to target efforts where they’re most needed.”

Check out the UT study at tma.tips/MaternalZIPmap

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Tex Med. 2018;114(10):40-41
October 2018 Texas Medicine Contents
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Last Updated On

October 01, 2018

Sean Price

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Sean Price is a reporter for Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He's worked as an award-winning writer and editor for a variety of national magazine, book, and website publishers in New York and Washington. He's also helped produce Texas-based marketing campaigns designed to promote public health. Sean lives in Austin and enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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