Columbus Health: Racism Is Factor In Infant Mortality Rates

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The Columbus Department of Health today says infant mortality is three times higher among African-American women than among white women.

Health Department Nurse Carolyn Slack cites research in Columbus and a half dozen other cities which shows disparities in pre-term births between black and white women. And, she says, racism plays a part.

“The stress of racism can affect the chemicals in a woman’s body and cause a pre-term birth.”

Health department statistics on infant mortality show among blacks in Columbus 16 babies out of every 1,000 born, die before their first birthday. Among Caucasian women, six children out of every 1,000 die during their first year of life. The Health Department released a video for social services and health care workers to help narrow that racial disparity.

Saint Stephens House Director and newly appointed Columbus city council member, Michell Mills, says it took a long time, 20 years, to comfortably talk about the effects of racism on pregnant women. Mills said the research indicates an African American woman thinks about race seven times daily, while white women rarely think about race.

“And so having to think about that when you’re in the store and you’re being followed for whatever stereotypes may circulate around you. The stress of actually being pregnant on top of the stress of trying to meet your basic needs for your family as a single mother which is plagued in the community. All of that stress has stress on the womb which then leads to early delivery.”

The Columbus Health Department says the city’s infant mortality among African-Americans is higher now than in the 1990s.

The Columbus Department of Health cites research from ten academic studies and publications in medical journals to develop its program for health and social service workers.

The Department also used work by the Ohio Perinatal Research Network at Columbus Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University Medical Center. OPRN researchers are further studying what they call “an array of factors that contribute to increased risk of pre-term birth.”

Northwestern University researchers published a study in the American Journal of Public Health that controls for factors other than race for pre-term births.

“To demonstrate their theory, Drs. J.W. Collins Jr. and R.J. David showed that African immigrants to the U.S. and U.S.-born white women had similar birth outcomes, yet African American women tended to have babies that weighed significantly less. Moreover, they showed that the results changed over time: outcomes for the African-born group worsened within one generation and became comparable to the African American group,” the study said.