Theses Doctoral

Do we have a problem? Examining how research, media, and the public understand maternal health

Teizazu, Hawi

Research objectives: This study examined research, media, and public opinion related to maternal health in order to understand some of the social and structural factors that influence the passage of comprehensive maternal health policies in the United States. This study also examined the messaging of race and racism in media and health communication.

Research objectives were: 1.) To summarize the perinatal care experiences of Black birthing people through a scoping review of the literature, 2.) To explore media depictions of maternal mortality in terms of the groups, causes, and solutions discussed in coverage, and 3.) To test the effects of two different approaches to communicating maternal health on public beliefs about the causes of racial health disparities and public support for structural policies.

Methods: The review of the literature followed a scoping review protocol and developed tailored search strings to retrieve relevant articles in three databases. The review protocol included developing selection criteria, screening articles retrieved from three databases, charting the data, and identifying themes across articles using an ecological health model as a conceptual guide. For the second paper – a content analysis of news media coverage of maternal mortality – relevant news articles were retrieved using NexisUni, an online database of newspaper articles. A codebook was developed deductively using previous research and grey literature on maternal health, and articles were subsequently coded for the presence or absence of codes that assessed how articles framed causes, solutions, and social groups in their coverage of maternal mortality in the United States.

The third paper tested the effects of articles that communicated the maternal health issues faced by Black birthing people using a web-based survey experiment. Participants in this study were recruited using Qualtrics’ panel services, and were randomly assigned to read either a narrative or nonnarrative article communicating the relationship between race and adverse maternal health outcomes. Participants were then asked to respond to the questions that assessed their agreement with structural causes for racial health disparities and their support for policies to improve maternal health.

Findings: The scoping review found that Black birthing people described factors at the interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy level in their accounts of their perinatal care experiences. This included their interactions with their providers, the dominant models of care in healthcare settings, institutional representation, and the limitations of care covered through existing Medicaid policies. The content analysis of media found that newspaper coverage of maternal health reflected the factors described in research. Media predominantly focused on structural causes and solutions for maternal health (e.g., access to services and care, social determinants of health, structural racism) and described racial disparities in maternal mortality.

The final study built on the findings of the media analysis by testing the effects of news articles that described the role of social and structural factors on the maternal health outcomes of Black birthing people. Data from the experiment showed that participants who read a narrative article about the issue had greater support for structural policies than participants who read a nonnarrative article. The difference in agreement with structural causes for racial health disparities between participants in the narrative and nonnarrative groups was not statistically significant. Additionally, data showed significant differences in treatment effects and policy support across groups distinguished by race and gender.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Wilson, Patrick A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 23, 2023