White and black children in the United States did not benefit equally from a recent reduction in infant mortality, according to new research.

From 2005 to 2015, if black infants had experienced the same mortality rate as white infants, thousands fewer babies would have died, the researchers estimate.

“The benefits to the black population have stalled and we have to pay attention to that,” said Corinne Riddell, of McGill University in Montreal.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this year that infant mortality declined 15 percent over the past decade. To see if non-Hispanic black infants benefited as much from the falling infant mortality rates as non-Hispanic white infants, Riddell and colleagues analyzed U.S. data collected from 2005 through 2015.

Infant mortality rates are calculated as the number of deaths within the first year of life relative to the number of live births.

From 2005 to 2015, the mortality rate among white infants declined from 5.7 deaths per 1,000 births to 4.8 per 1,000 births, Riddell’s team reports in JAMA Pediatrics.

Among black infants, the death rate declined from 14.3 per 1,000 births in 2005 to 11.6 per 1,000 in 2012, where it plateaued before going back up to 11.7 per 1,000 births in 2015.

For every thousand births, there were 8.6 more infant deaths among blacks than among whites in 2005. The difference fell to 6.6 extra deaths in black infants in 2012 but rose again to 6.9 extra deaths in 2015.

When the researchers looked at causes of death, they found that deaths due to preterm birth and low birthweight among black infants followed a similar pattern as the mortality rate – a decrease and plateau.

That might be where public health efforts should be directed, “to target the disparity,” Riddell told Reuters Health.

Riddell’s team hopes to examine infant mortality rates by region to see if some states are doing better than others in addressing the disparity. States with larger racial gaps in infant mortality rates could possibly learn from policies in states with smaller disparities, she said.

SOURCE: Reuters Health
Andrew M. Seaman