Health disparities in premature birth
In the United States, rates of preterm birth, low birthweight, and infant mortality are higher for black, non-Hispanic infants than for white, non-Hispanic infants. These differences, or disparities, between races and/or ethnicities have a great impact on the health and well-being of families.
What we know
- Premature birth is when a baby is born too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- While the overall preterm birth rate in 2013 was 11.4%, the rate was higher among non-Hispanic black infants (16.3%) compared to non-Hispanic white infants (10.2%). This means that the preterm birth rate for black infants was 60% higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white infants.
- 11.3% of Hispanic infants were born prematurely. Hispanic women account for about 1 out of every 4 premature births in the US (23.2%). The preterm birth rate among Hispanic women is falling more slowly than the rate in the non-Hispanic white population and the non-Hispanic black population.
- The number of black infants born at a low birthweight (a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces) was almost twice that of white infants and Hispanic infants.
- The death of a baby before his or her first birthday is called infant mortality. The rates of infant mortality are higher for babies born before 37 weeks and at a low birthweight.
- A recent study published by the CDC, showed that from 2005 to 2014, infant mortality rates declined for all races, except American Indian or Alaska Natives. But babies born to non-Hispanic black women continue to have an infant mortality rate more than double that of non-Hispanic white women.
We don’t know why race plays a role in premature birth.
Even when researchers compare women of different races and ethnicities and remove any known risk factors in their analysis (such as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure), the disparities in the rate of premature births still exist.
Researchers at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative are trying to better understand health disparities. Dr. Irina Buhimschi has found that there is a population of Somali women in the US with a low rate of premature birth—as low as or lower than white women. Dr. Buhumschi and her team are trying to determine what makes this population different. “We believe a variety of genetic, environmental and social factors are involved in preterm birth. From stress and resilience, to diet and lifestyle, to vaginal and gut bacteria, we will comprehensively study why Somali-American women have lower rates of preterm birth.” Dr. Buhimschi then hopes to develop a plan that can help all populations reduce their chances of premature birth.
You can read more about Dr. Buhimschi’s research here.
The March of Dimes supports research, community programs, and advocacy policies that try to reduce health disparities and make sure that all babies have a healthy start in life.