Open Access Open Badges Research article

A retrospective follow up study on maternal age and infant mortality in two Sicilian districts

Walter Mazzucco1*, Rosanna Cusimano3, Maurizio Macaluso2, Claudio La Scola6, Giovanna Fiumanò4, Salvatore Scondotto5, Achille Cernigliaro5, Giovanni Corsello6, Giuseppe La Torre7 and Francesco Vitale1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Promotion Sciences, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy

2 Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, USA

3 Provincial Health Agency Palermo, Palermo, Italy

4 Provincial Health Agency Messina, Messina, Italy

5 Epidemiological Observatory, Regional Health Authority, Palermo, Italy

6 Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy

7 Department of Experimental Medicine - Clinical Medicine and Public Health Section, "Sapienza" University of Rome, Rome, Italy

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:817  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-817

Published: 19 October 2011



Infant mortality rate (IMR) is a key public health indicator. Maternal age is a well-known determinant of pregnancy and delivery complications and of infant morbidity and mortality. In Italy the Infant Mortality Rate was 3.7/1000 during 2005, lower than the average IMR for the European Union (4.94/1000). Sicily is the Italian region with the highest IMR, 5/1000, and neonatal mortality rate (NMR), 3.8/1000, with substantial variation among its nine districts.

The present study compared a high IMR/NMR district (Messina) with a low IMR/NMR district (Palermo) during the period 2004-2006 to evaluate potential determinants of the IMRs' differences between the two districts and specifically the impact of maternal age.


The Death Causes Registers identified all deaths during the first year of life recorded among infants born to residents of the two districts in 2004-2006. For every case, available hospital charts records were abstracted using a standardized form designed to capture information on potential determinants of infant death. For each district and for each year, IMRs and NMRs were computed. Chi-squared statistics tested the significance of differences between district-specific IMRs. A Poisson regression model was used to analyze the relationship between maternal age, district of residence and IMR.


The 246 death registry-confirmed cases included 143 (58.1%) males and 103 (41.2%) females, with mean age at death of 33.3 days (SD: 64.5, median: 5.5). The average IMR for 2004-2006 was significantly higher for the Messina district than for the Palermo district (p = 0.0001). The IMR ratio was 1.6 (95%CI: 1.2 - 2.1). The IMRs declined from 2004 to 2006. A significant interaction (p = 0.04) between maternal age and district of residence was documented.


The association between advanced maternal age and infant deaths in the Messina district was due in part to the excess of newborns from advanced age mothers, but also to increased risk of death among such newborns. The significant interaction between district of residence and maternal age indicated that the IMR excess in the Messina district cannot be explained by disproportionately high live birth rates among older mothers and suggested the hypothesis that health care facilities in the Messina district could be less well prepared to provide assistance to the excess of high risk pregnancies and deliveries, as compared to Palermo district.