Racism and Low Birth Weight 101

By Jill Arnold

September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month. As the month comes to a close, we will feature a few interviews on the topic with a commitment to not isolating such an important issue to merely one calendar month.

In recent years, both traditional journalism and social media have illuminated the United States’ shockingly low infant mortality rank. The United States Department of Health and Human Services published these facts last month.

United States ranked 28th in the world in infant mortality, in 2006.

In the United States in 2006, 28,509 infants died before reaching their first birthday, an infant mortality rate of 6.7 per 1,000 live births.

African American infants are more than two times more likely to die during the first year of life than white infants.

Infant mortality rate by race per thousand live birth

o Asian – 4.3 

o Blacks – 13.1 

o Native American – 8.3

o White – 5.7 

o Total – 6.7

The United States infant mortality rate was more than 3 times as high as the infant mortality rate in Hong Kong (1.8 per 1,000 live births), the country with the lowest reported rate in 2006.

It is almost incomprehensible that African American babies are dying at this rate. How is that even possible in this day and age, we all ask.

For decades, OB-GYNs, midwives, epidemiologists and other health experts have focused on the prenatal period to improve the health of pregnant women and babies. While this remains a crucial window for education and personal responsibility, it has proven to be just one piece of the puzzle.

I’ve assembled a slide show of sorts for you to click through at your own pace that will, I hope, inspire you to start doing your own reading and research on the topic. Please consider this an oversimplified Racism and Low Birth Weight 101.

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