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How is it that black infant mortality is still such a huge problem?

How is it that black infant mortality is still such a huge problem?

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[Cropped image by Maryland GovPics via Flickr.]

I remember the first time I heard about black infant mortality disparities. I was at a conference last summer on perinatal health and there was one presentation focused on the topic. The chilling statistic was uttered over and over again: black infants in the United States are twice as likely to die in their first year of life as white infants. The presenters also shared that it wasn’t just a socioeconomic issue — a black woman with a college degree was more likely to lose a baby than a white woman without a high school diploma.

In this room, at this health conference, were other black women — some health advocates, some medical professionals — who were also learning about this for the first time. Some raised their hands and shared stories about how they’d personally lost infants or given birth prematurely. They did not realize they were part of the statistic. I did not realize until then that members of my family were likely included in datasets somewhere and that, if I started a family myself one day, it could be a reality for me.

Maybe it just wasn’t on my radar before, but I’ve seen more and more stories lately about this issue. Many lift up personal narratives and present these alarming statistics as if they were news. This isn’t a new issue. Just thinking about the fact that the chronic stress of racism is a factor raises my cortisol levels. Many of the stories have left me with lingering questions: How is this still a problem? What are we, as a society, supposed to do about this?

I’m currently reporting a series of radio stories that will not only elevate this issue but also shed light on possible solutions. The first piece will focus on illuminating the disparity and the causes, including the growing body of research on the role of racism. It will include stories of mothers who have experienced loss and are working to create change bit by bit.

That’s one little slice of change. What are the other, large-scale solutions? The next two stories will attempt to answer that question.

More and more research shows that disparities in birth outcomes are a result of various biological, physiological and social events, not just during the pregnancy, but over a lifetime. I'll travel outside of Southern California to look at some of the programs using the life-course approach from a grassroots level. The problem can only truly be addressed once the affected community understands it. I’ll look inside of several efforts to raise awareness within the black community in Los Angeles County, other parts of California, and other parts of the country that have lessons for this region.

In another story, I’ll examine the role of public health in spreading awareness and promoting change. L.A. County health officials have launched a number of initiatives over the years to combat the issue. In 1989, the county was one of the first jurisdictions in the state to create a black infant health program. The Fetal Infant Mortality Review Project was launched in 1994. Healthy People 2010 took off in 2000. But in L.A. County, black babies are still more than three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white and Asian infants. A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics found that the gap between white and black infant mortality has stopped narrowing. With the black infant health program nearly 30 years old, what progress has been made and why are so many babies still dying?

Though many of the deaths are due to prematurity and low birth weight, there are many other factors that cut young lives short before their first birthday. I’ll take a look at initiatives that have tackled aspects of the mortality issue, like campaigns focused on safe sleep and breastfeeding. How many promising investments have been neglected or defunded? I’ve started talking to children’s advocates about other health issues that have been successfully targeted. What are the similarities and differences? Since we are so quick to forget history, what could policymakers learn from past examples? There is no silver bullet on this issue, but what could be done to make a bigger change?

Along with a series of stories, I also plan to discuss this issue on KPCC’s talk shows and through events — giving the community a chance to further share their experiences and start a conversation about changing the statistics.

[Cropped image by Maryland GovPics via Flickr.]


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First of all, Congratulations for your 2018 California Fellowship. Your article elaborates the reasons that are the cause of infant mortality. Gained lot of facts from this article.


The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.

The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 Symposium on Domestic Violence provides reporters with a roadmap for covering this public health epidemic with nuance and sensitivity. The next session will be offered virtually on Friday, March 31. Journalists attending the symposium will be eligible to apply for a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000 from our Domestic Violence Impact Reporting Fund. Find more info here!


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