NEWARK, N.J. — Racism, discrimination and other stresses that black women encounter could be a factor in their babies facing a higher risk of infant death than white children, speakers at a conference on black infant mortality said Friday.
Overall, about seven infants of every 1,000 born die before reaching age 1. But black infants are 2 1/2 times more likely than white infants to die before their first birthday, Surgeon General David Satcher said.
"As long as we have a situation where an African-American baby is 2 1/2 times more likely to die, it reflects a major problem in society," Satcher said.
Premature birth and low birth weight are significant factors in infant mortality, and researchers said stress from environmental and social conditions could be leading to black women giving birth earlier and to smaller children.
"Racism . . . needs to be studied if we want to understand health differences between blacks and whites," said Dr. Richard David, associate professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois.
"We can't have these disparities," said Dr. Diane Rowley with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The only question is, are we willing to do what it's going to take to not lose these children?"
David said preliminary research seems to show factors like environmental toxins, living in high-violence areas and feeling discriminated against at work or at school can all lead to children's being born with low birth weights.
Rowley said that the medical world needs to focus more on how to determine the impact of stress on the body, but that it was difficult to figure out.
The conference was organized by the Northern New Jersey Maternal Child Health Consortium, which came out with a report in September 1997 that said stress most likely contributed to black infant mortality.