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Racial disparities seen in pediatric postoperative mortality rates



Among Black and White children, higher socioeconomic status (SES) was associated with lower pediatric postoperative mortality, according to a cohort study published in JAMA Network Open. However, this association was not equitable when comparing Black and White children.

The results showed that postoperative mortality rates were significantly higher in Black children in the highest income category, compared with White children in the same category.

“[We] assessed whether increasing family SES is associated with lower pediatric postoperative mortality and, if so, whether this association is equitable among Black and White children,” Brittany L. Willer, MD, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues wrote.

The researchers retrospectively analyzed data from 51 pediatric tertiary care hospitals apart of the Children’s Hospital Association Pediatric Health Information System. The cohort included children younger than 18 years who underwent inpatient surgical procedures between January 2004 and December 2020.

The exposures of interest were race and parental income quartile; the primary endpoint was risk-adjusted in-hospital mortality rates by race and parental income quartile.


The study cohort included 1,378,111 participants, including 248,464 (18.0%) Black and 1,129,647 (82.0%) White children, respectively.

The overall mortality rate was 1.2%, and rates decreased as income quartile increased (1.4% in quartile 1 [lowest income]; 1.3% in quartile 2; 1.0% in quartile 3; and 0.9% in quartile 4 [highest income]; P < .001).

Among participants in the three lowest income quartiles, Black children had 33% greater odds of postoperative death versus White children (adjusted odds ratio, 1.33; 95% confidence interval, 1.27-1.39; P < .001). This difference persisted in children in the highest income quartile (aOR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.25-1.54; P < .001).

In addition, postoperative mortality rates in Black children in the highest income quartile (1.30%; 95% CI, 1.19%-1.42%) were similar to those of White children in the lowest income quartile (1.20%; 95% CI, 1.16%-1.25%).

“These findings suggest that increasing family SES did not provide equitable advantage to Black, compared with White children, and interventions that target socioeconomic inequities alone may not fully address persistent racial disparities in pediatric postoperative mortality,” wrote Dr. Willer and colleagues. “A multifaceted approach that includes dismantling of socioeconomic barriers, equitable availability of comprehensive pediatric surgical care, and personalized care for children of all races is needed.”

The researchers acknowledged that a potential limitation of the study was the use of zip code–level median household income as a proxy for family SES.

A perspective

In an interview, Timothy Joos, MD, a Seattle internist and pediatrician in private practice, said “there is a fair dose of racism and classism inside all of us – recognizing and coming to terms with it are steps toward improving equity issues.

“As providers, we have to remind ourselves to give our most prompt and thorough care to the patients with the most acute and severe illnesses,” Dr. Joos said. “As organizations, we have to pursue feedback from all our clients, but with special outreach to those that are used to not having their voices heard.”

No funding sources were reported. The authors reported no relevant disclosures. Dr. Joos is a member of the Pediatric News editorial advisory board but had no other disclosures.

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