US newborns are two times more likely to die a preventable death if they are black, CDC data reveals

  • Overall infant mortality in the US has fallen since 2005, new CDC data reveal 
  • But three times as many black babies died in 2017 as did white infants under one
  • The most common causes of death for babies on the whole were birth defects 
  • For babies of black mothers, preterm births and low birth weights were responsible for the majority of infant deaths 
  • Stress is a major cause of early deliveries, and some experts think racism itself drives the disparities between black and white infant deaths  

Black babies in the US are still more than twice as likely to die in infancy as are white babies, disheartening new data reveal. 

In 2017, 22,341 American infants died before their first birthdays, according to the numbers released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

But whereas less than five out of every 1,000 white infants perished, nearly 11 out of every 1,000 black babies lost their lives. 

Infant mortality rates in the US have fallen year-over-year since 2005 but, as is the case with so many public health gains, this improvement doesn’t apply to all Americans equally. 

Black and Hispanic Americans are still more likely to be uninsured or under-insured, suffer high rates of chronic disease and obesity, and are less likely to have a regular health care provider. 

Healthcare for women in general and women of color in particular has sparked ire and outrage from many public health advocates. 

The US has the worst maternal death rate in the developed world.  

And giving birth is exceedingly dangerous for black women in the US, who have higher risks of preeclampsia – from which Beyonce suffered – and make up a disproportionate percentage of the 700 to 900 women that die in pregnancy or childbirth in the US. 

Hospitals have come under fire for turning all attention to newborns and leaving mothers under-attended, often to fight for their lives. 

But outcomes are exceptionally poor for black mothers and their infants alike. 

Death rates are highest during the first month after birth across all races, but at all stages of infancy, African American babies were at high risk of death. 

The top five causes of death for infants in 2017 were birth defects, early delivery or low birthweight, maternal complications, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or unintentional injuries. 

Deaths from four of the top five causes fell, but the number of babies that sustained fatal unintentional injuries increased by nearly 11 percent between 2016 and 2017. 

Most commonly, black babies perished because they were born before they had been in their mothers’ wombs a full 40 weeks. 

Deaths were attributed to early births or low birth weights for 241.5 infants per every 100,000 black babies born.

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Preterm birth was responsible for nearly half of the deaths of babies born to black and Cuban women in 2017, and less than 30 percent of babies whose mothers were white. 

And maternal complications led to the deaths of 83.3 out of every 100,000 black infants born, compared to just 23.6 per 100,000 babies born to white mothers – a three-fold difference.  

Scientists have struggled to definitively explain these racial disparities, which persist even when income differences are accounted for. 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has pointed to post-traumatic stress disorder as a trigger for premature birth. 

In fact, stress in general raises the risks that a woman will suffer preeclampsia and give go into labor early. 

Some experts have even suggested that the stress of racism in the US itself may be driving the differences in life and death between black women and infants and their white counterparts.  



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