Racial Disparities Persist In Sudden Infant Deaths : NPR

Good data helps formulate questions and analysis, and inform future policy:

American Indian and Alaska Native families are much more likely to have an infant die suddenly and unexpectedly, and that risk has remained higher than in other ethnic groups since public health efforts were launched to prevent sudden infant death syndrome in the 1990s. African-American babies also face a higher risk, a study finds.

American Indians and Alaska Natives had a rate of 177.6 sudden, unexplained infant deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013 (down from 237.5 per 100,000 in 1995), compared to 172.4 for non-Hispanic blacks (down from 203), 84.5 for non-Hispanic whites (down from 93), 49.3 for Hispanics (down from 62.7) and 28.3 for Asians and Pacific Islanders (down from 59.3). The declines were statistically significant only among non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

“There are still significant gaps and disparities between races and ethnicities,” says Lori Feldman-Winter, a professor of pediatrics at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, N.J., who wasn’t involved with this study and was a co-author of the most recent sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, released last fall.

“We had the overall picture, but no one had really taken a close look at what was happening within that,” says Sharyn Parks, an epidemiologist at the CDC and an author of the study, published Monday in Pediatrics.

The reasons behind those changes, and why rates among American Indians/Alaskan Natives and African-Americans remain so much higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders aren’t known, though.

One important consideration is that the study didn’t control for socioeconomic or other factors, such as prenatal or postnatal exposure to alcohol or tobacco, or breast-feeding patterns. So disparities or changes might be influenced by other factors besides race and ethnicity, say, the differences in the prevalence of prenatal care, says Parks.

It’s also not possible to determine if of the public health campaign on safe sleeping played a role in reducing death rates.

An editorial accompanying the study notes that while non-Hispanic black infants saw death rates decline significantly, separate research has shown that African-Americans are also less likely than other racial and ethnic groups to embrace the safe sleeping recommendations. That suggests something else may have helped drive the improvement in that group, says Richard Goldstein, an author of the editorial and a pediatrician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital. He says it’s important to consider all the factors that might have helped improve survival, including advances in care for premature infants and a decline in the rate of women younger than 20 having babies. Both preemies and infants born to young mothers are at higher risk of sudden unexplained death.

Source: Racial Disparities Persist In Sudden Infant Deaths : Shots – Health News : NPR

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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