Black babies in the US are THREE TIMES more likely to die in hospital than white children when cared for by a white doctor, study finds
- Infant mortality is far higher among US-born black babies than white babies
- A George Washington University study of 1.8 million births in Florida found marked disparities based on the doctor caring for each newborn
- Babies cared for by black doctors were between 39 and 58% less likely to die than those cared for by white doctors
Black babies in the US are up to three times more likely to die in the days and weeks following their births compared to white babies, a new study finds.
But their survival odds vary drastically depending on who is in charge of their medical care.
When black babies were cared for by black doctors, their mortality rate fell by 39 to 58 percent, according to George Mason University research.
The damning report suggests that black doctors take better care of black babies and are just as capable when looking after white newborns – yet the overwhelming majority of doctors are white, heightening the challenge of improving care for black infants in the US.
An analysis of data on 1.8 million live births in Florida found that black babies were three times more likely to die as newborns if they were cared for by white doctors (file)
The state of maternal-fetal mortality in the US is dismal, statistically speaking, when compared to other comparably wealthy nations.
In 2018 – the most recent year for which there is complete data – 3.5 out of every 1,000 babies born died within 28 days of birth.
That year, 21,467 newborns died.
Far more babies are born in poor health in the US than in the UK or Scandinavian countries, making their survival odds lower from their first breaths.
And black families lose their newborn children at far higher rates than do white families in the US.
Like any racial health disparity, the ‘why’ is complicated.
Birth weight is a key indicator of a baby’s health, and black babies are far more likely to be born underweight compared to white babies.
Between 2016 and 2018, 13.3 percent of black newborns had low birth weights.
That’s nearly double the rate among white babies (7.1 percent), and higher than the rates for Asian/Pacific Islanders (8.4 percent) or American Indian/Alaskan Natives (8.1 percent).
Failure to thrive is more common among these babies, but it’s not just these measures of health at birth that predict survival but where they’re born and, according to the new study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), by whom they are cared for.
The researchers analyzed records on 1.8 million hospital births in Florida between 1992 and 2015.
At baseline, 1,090 out of every 100,000 black babies born died within the first 28 days of life.
That was more than twice the death rate among white babies: 490 per 100,000.
The team attributed this shocking disparity to higher rates of eclampsia and preeclampsia (potentially dangerous high blood sugar during pregnancy) among the mothers while they were pregnant, higher rates of preterm delivery, economic disadvantage and racial bias.
‘In fact, mortality among Black infants outstrips medical inequalities in many other health domains,’ the researchers wrote.
The factor their study focused on was the race of the doctors caring for the newborns.
They found that in hospitals where more black babies were born but the majority of doctors were white, the mortality for those babies was 56 percent higher than in hospitals where more doctors were black.
‘For families giving birth to a Black baby, the desire to minimize risk and seek care from a Black physician would be understandable,’ the study authors wrote.
‘However, the disproportionately White physician workforce makes this untenable because there are too few Black physicians to service the entire population.’
Their findings come with the caveat that ‘physician performance’ was wildly inconsistent, meaning that selecting a doctor based on race alone would not be enough to ensure a newborn’s survival.