Infant mortality high among African Americans

    Twice as many African American babies die within the first year of life as white babies. The University of Pennsylvania is screened a film Friday that focused on ways to eliminate that disparity.

    Twice as many African American babies die within the first year of life as white babies. The University of Pennsylvania screened a film Friday that focused on ways to eliminate that disparity.
    (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cg2photoart/ / CC BY 2.0)

    Listen:

    [audio:091111kgbaby.mp3]

    The movie takes place at the so-called ground zero of infant mortality: Memphis Tennessee, which has the highest rate in the country.

    The public service film follows college students as they reach out to would-be parents at community centers, high schools, and even on college campuses. Tonya Lewis Lee produced the film.

    Researchers have long known that infant mortality rates rise as income and education decline. But Lewis says an elevated rate of infant deaths among African Americans persists among college-educated women.

    Lee: It really is an issue that goes across all socioeconomic grounds. So it doesn’t matter how educated you are, it doesn’t matter much money you have, as an African American woman you have a risk of losing your child at a higher rate.

    Mary Lou DeLeon Siantz is the University of Pennsylvania nursing school’s assistant dean for diversity and cultural affairs. She says racism throughout society plays a role.

    Siantz:
    There has been some research that has provided an association between the stress that is undergone from experiencing racism in your daily life and what that does to your body overall, especially for women.

    Lee says being college educated does not extinguish that stress, and likely leads to higher infant mortality.

    Siantz says little research has been done on the health factors contributing to low birth weight, pre-term babies and infant mortality.

    Brenda Shelton-Dunston is the executive director of Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance.

    Shelton-Dunston: This information is not widely known. There has not been a great deal of focus on the infant mortality rate and the impact that it is having on the African American population.

    Shelton-Dunston says parents can help reduce infant mortality by taking up healthier eating and behavioral habits.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.