Stress a Contributor in Racial Disparities of Infant Mortality

National Infant Mortality Awareness Month

A recent npr report looks into the factors influencing racial disparities in U.S. birth outcomes, specifically the disparity in infant deaths between black and white babies. According to the report, black infants are about 230 percent more likely than white infants to die before their first birthdays. More interestingly, this racial disparity in birth outcomes does not narrow with age or educational attainment.

Though factors influencing infant mortality are multifactoral, one theory explaining this racial disparity has gained creedence over the past 20 years — stress. Black women deal with enormous stressors often stemming from racism, in addition to the added socioeconomic stressors many face. For middle- and upper-class black women, the pressure of being a “model minority” can take a toll as well.

When the influence of unusually high stress levels compound over time, chronic health issues such as hypertension, obesity, smoking, diabetes, drug abuse and poor maternal health arises, accounting for much higher levels of chronic disease earlier in life for blacks when compared to whites. This phenomena, coined “weathering,” impacts black women as early as their 20s. Ultimately, these health problems prior to pregnancy lead to poor birth outcomes once pregnant.

While infant mortality rates in Northeast Florida have continued to decline, this disparity is mirrored in Jacksonville, with a 5.8 infant mortality rate for white babies, as compared to a 11.1 infant mortality rate for black babies. Healthy Start’s “Make a Noise! Make a Difference!” community education and awareness campaign looks to narrow this gap, as will more than 50 newly trained Preconception Peer Educators in our area.

For more information on racial and ethnic disparities in the U.S., read the National Center for Health Statistics’ report on infant mortality.