Associations between provider-assigned Apgar score and neonatal race

Published:August 03, 2022DOI:


      For decades, the Apgar scoring system has been used to evaluate neonatal status and determine need for resuscitation or escalation in care, such as admission to a neonatal intensive care unit. However, the variation and accuracy of provider-assigned Apgar scores across neonatal racial groups have yet to be evaluated.


      This study aimed to investigate how provider-assigned Apgar scores vary by neonatal race independently of clinical factors and umbilical cord gas values.

      Study Design

      We conducted a retrospective cohort study at an urban academic medical center. All live births at ≥23 weeks and 0 days of gestation from January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019 with complete data available were included. Data were queried from the electronic medical record and included race, ethnicity, gestational age of neonate, umbilical cord gas values (umbilical artery pH and base deficit), admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, and presence of maternal–fetal complications. Primary outcome measures were neonates’ Apgar scores at 1 and 5 minutes. Color Apgar score and admission to the neonatal intensive care unit served as secondary outcome measures. We performed 3 partially proportional ordinal regression models controlling for an increasing number of covariates, with Model 1, the baseline model, adjusted for gestational age, Model 2 additionally adjusted for umbilical cord gases, and Model 3 additionally adjusted for maternal medical conditions and pregnancy complications.


      A total of 977 neonates met selection criteria; 553 (56.6%) were Black. Providers assigned Black neonates significantly lower Apgar scores at 1 minute (odds ratio, 0.63; 95% confidence interval, 0.49–0.80) and 5 minutes (odds ratio, 0.64; 95% confidence interval, 0.47–0.87), when controlling for umbilical artery gases, gestational age, and maternal–fetal complications. This difference seemed related to significantly lower assigned color Apgar scores at 1 minute when controlling for all the above factors (odds ratio, 0.52; 95% confidence interval, 0.39–0.68). Providers admitted full-term Black neonates to the neonatal intensive care unit at higher rates than non-Black neonates when controlling for all factors (odds ratio, 1.29; 95% confidence interval, 0.94–1.77). Black neonates did not have more abnormal cord gas values (mean umbilical artery pH of 7.259 for Black vs 7.256 for non-Black neonates), which would have supported their admission to the neonatal intensive care unit.


      Providers applied inaccurate Apgar scores to Black neonates given that the umbilical cord gases were not in agreement with lower Apgar scores. These inaccuracies may be a factor in unnecessary admissions to neonatal intensive care units, and suggest that colorism and racial biases exist among healthcare providers.

      Key words

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