Black Infants Are More Likely To Be Born Preterm

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The African-American infant mortality rate is more than twice as high as white Americans and the preterm birth rate for black women averaged 17.6 percent, compared to the national average of 12.3 between 2002 and 2004.

These statistics, and others related to birth outcomes, are discussed in a new PBS documentary "When the Bough Breaks." This episode, scheduled to air Thursday, April 3, at 10:00 PM (check local PBS listings), is part of the four-hour series entitled "Unnatural Causes -- Is Inequality Making Us Sick?" that was produced by California Newsreel and presented by the National Minority Consortia of public television. The March of Dimes is an official outreach partner for the series in conjunction with other leading public health, policy and community-based organizations.

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"Racial and ethnic disparities in premature birth are troubling and persistent," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "We face an urgent need for effective prevention programs and interventions to reverse a serious trend that has lasted too long. That's going to take influencing lawmakers to enact meaningful policy changes that will increase access to affordable health care coverage and committing more public dollars to prevention programs and to research so that we may find answers."

This episode interviews many experts in the field, including a March of Dimes-funded researcher, Dr. James Collins, from Northwestern University. Dr. Collins and Dr. Michael Lu, who also appears in the program, are members of the March of Dimes Scientific Advisory Committee. Some of those interviewed raise the hypothesis that the chronic stress of racism may have a detrimental impact on the health of African American women and on their children.

Preterm birth has been the leading cause of death for black infants for more than a decade. For those babies that do survive, approximately 25 percent of them live with serious long-term problems, such as learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, and other chronic conditions including asthma. Infant mortality rates for blacks averaged 13.5 per 1,000 live births, compared to the national average of 6.9 between 2002 and 2004.

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