One 2017 United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report shows the American infant mortality rate decreased during 2005-2015. However, when researchers broke down the data by race, they discovered more black babies than white babies died in that first year of life, despite that general downward trend.
The scientists studied live-birth and death data drawn from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System during that period. They looked at the infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic black infants and non-Hispanic white infants. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics published the research online on July 3, 2017.
While the mortality numbers did decrease or plateau across the four categories studied over the research period, black infants generally fared worse than their white counterparts in each of the studied areas.
Looking at data stripped of personally identifiable information, the scientists examined the four major categories deemed to be the most frequent causes of infant death. They considered: short-gestation/low birth weight, congenital malformations, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and maternal complications. A fifth category, called All Other Causes, also was included in the research.
When examining the numbers, the researchers found deaths stemming from short gestation/low birth weight among black infants revealed significant differences from that of white infants.The researchers stated short gestation/low birth weight is “. . . the leading cause of infant death among black infants.”
For example, in 2005, among 100,000 live births — the standard compared across all categories – 309.2 black infants suffering from short gestation/low birth weight died compared with 78.2 white infants, or about five times as many. In 2015 in that same category, the respective deaths came in at 256.9 versus 69.7, or close to four times as many.
Looking at SIDS statistics, black infants died at rates of between two and five times more frequently than white infants during the report’s approximate 10-year study period. In 2005, for example, black infants succumbing to SIDS compared with white infants died at a rate of 111.3 versus 52.5 in the critical first 12 months of life. In 2015, the respective death rate was 87.1 compared with 36.2, or somewhat more than twice as frequently for black infants in 2005 and 2015.
When examining the infant mortality rate due to maternal complications, the numbers revealed a similar situation, with black infants dying at nearly three times the rate of white infants in 2005 and 2015. And in the congenital malformations category, in 2005 and in 2015 about four times as many black as white infants died. The “all other causes” category showed similarly higher rates of black infant mortality.
A limitation is seen in the fact only a black and a white infant population data were available in the USCDC report. Further research is needed to determine if inequities exist among other populations as well. While the researchers did not pinpoint any definitive, isolated cause(s) prompting the greater black infant mortality rate, they stated more work needs to be done in the field to eliminate such racially linked deaths. This important report gives clear evidence that inequalities exist. Much research needs to be done to understand the complexities surrounding this issue, to identify the areas of concern and advocate for effective solutions.
Written by Susan Mercer Hinrichs, MA, MBA, CPhT
Reference: Trends in Differences in U.S. Mortality Rates Between Black and White Infants
Authors: Corinne A. Riddell, PhD; Sam Harper, PhD; and Jay S. Kaufman, PhD