Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=231182
Story Retrieval Date: 9/20/2014 7:03:06 PM CST

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Closing the gap: Black infant mortality in Chicago

by Jenn Stanley
June 06, 2014


Breaking down the infant mortality rates across Chicago by community area presents a jarring picture. Many predominantly black communities, such as Fuller Park, Washington Park and Auburn Gresham, have some of the highest rates, with Fuller Park exceeding 22 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. That’s almost four times the national average, according to a Medill analysis.

Complications of premature birth are the leading causes of infant death. Stress, maternal behaviors during pregnancy and lack of prenatal care can cause a baby to be born too early. Black women are more likely to give birth preterm, even with access to health care and good maternal health. A number of studies show that babies of married, educated African-American women are still more likely to die in their first year than white babies, even those with less advantageous backgrounds.

While poverty and access to health care should not be overlooked as factors, some physicians and researchers now believe that the stress of generations of racism could be contributing to this startling trend. Although infant mortality rates are declining overall, the gap between white and black infants appears to be widening.

A 2007 study by Dr. Richard David at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dr. James Collins Jr. of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, found that immigrants from majority-black countries in Africa and the Caribbean had lower infant mortality rates than did black women born in America. What’s more, outcomes become worse among immigrant families with each generation born in the United States.

Fuller Park and Washington Park are located near the University of Chicago, and proximity to its world-class medical center is not fixing these outcomes.

“What many studies have found is it’s a relational issue,” said the Rev. Kirsten Peachey, director of The Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation. A joint program of UIC and Downers Grove-based health care provider Advocate Health Care. “That the stress of racism can affect a baby in utero, and that stress can be passed down generationally.”