When a single research study looks at tens of thousands of ART procedures, the conclusions can be quite meaningful. Such a study received attention by Reuters this week with the headline "Weight, race tied to fertility treatment success".
Besides bolstering what we already know about weight and fertility, the study published in Fertility and Sterility determined that both failure to achieve a pregnancy and failure to achieve live birth are significantly more likely among non-white ethnicities. This finding was in light of adjusting for body mass index (BMI).
Unfortunately, since limited data was available to the researchers, their final conclusion about the difference in treatment success between white women (the reference group, having accounted for nearly 25,000 of the total 31,672 transfers researched) and black, Hispanic, or Asian women is that more studies are needed to discern reasons: "Future research should focus on clarifying the underlying causes of these disparities."
Having provided fertility care for over a decade now in a very ethnically diverse metropolitan area, here are my thoughts on possible connections between race and fertility treatment success numbers:
First, we know from past research that people from certain communities are not accessing fertility care as often as other groups. Financial reasons may seem to top the list, but the truth is that for some groups, there exist tremendous taboos against infertility treatment. Another related reason -- especially for Hispanic or Asian couples -- is language barrier.
That's one of the reasons Houston Fertility Center is hosting free Spanish-language educational opportunities -- to remove the language barrier as an obstacle to seeking fertility care. We hope, too, that our culturally diverse staff will be able to help curious couples feel comfortable enough to ask questions and find out about their family-building options.
Trying to determine what affects success rates based on ethnicity is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. For example, if the study did not include a breakdown based on how many patients used donor egg or not, we might see their results as skewed. That's because donor egg use is highly likely in older, white mothers-to-be and has an impact on success rate numbers.
I applaud researchers who undertake large-scale studies, and I look forward to future findings that can assist medical professionals like myself in our mission to truly make the finest fertility care accessible. In the meantime, the Houston Fertility Center staff and I will continue to reach out beyond our clinic doors to extend family-building services to all.