It’s true that being black in America is hazardous to your health. African-Americans have higher rates of diseases like HIV-AIDS, hypertension and diabetes and are more likely to die from violence and have less access to quality healthcare.
Yet, there’s another shocking stat that doesn’t get much attention. For every 1,000 children born to black mothers, 13 of them will die before their first birthday. That’s an infant mortality rate of 13.1 per 1,000 live births, and that’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. And it’s more than twice the rate of white American women, at 5.6 per 1,000, and higher than the rate of countries like: Portugal, at 3 per 1,000; Croatia, at 4 per 1,000; or Romania, at 11 per 1,000.
Some of the causes seem predictable. Compared to whites, black women in America get lower-quality medical care, especially if they’re poor or lack full-service health insurance. Other factors are obesity, smoking, or poor nutrition during pregnancy.
Several studies over the last decade show that the 13.1 infant mortality rate is about the same for healthy, affluent black women with college degrees. Age isn’t a factor, either. Black mothers across the range of child-bearing years are losing their babies at a double-digit rate. Doctors now point the finger at the chief culprit: racism. Yes, racism.
In a 2007 study, researchers in Chicago compared infant birth weights of babies. Low birth weight is a key indicator of infant mortality and a newborn’s health. Infants born to white women had an average birth weight of 7.5 pounds. Infants born to African and Caribbean immigrants new to the United States had an average birth weight of 7.3 pounds. So, the average birth weight of babies in the two groups were nearly identical, but the same study found that babies born to the next generation — the daughters of black immigrants — had dropped to the same average weight as African-American children: about 6.8 pounds, almost a full pound lighter than white babies.
Doctors, at a loss to for a scientific explanation, now believe the everyday stress of being a black woman in a mostly white society is the cause. One researcher said constantly dealing with racism is like revving a carr’s engine without easing up on the gas. The stress takes its toll in the lives of unborn children.