The mortality rate among black infants in the U.S. is more than twice that of white infants—in some urban areas, even higher—and a growing body of evidence suggests that a key factor may be stress among black mothers caused by racial discrimination.
Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, discussed the relationship between racism and black infant mortality in a February 15, 2017 article in The Nation.
According to the article, researchers have looked at a host of other possible factors for why black infant mortality is so high—such as women’s poor eating habits, obesity, smoking, drinking, or poor prenatal care—but none of the factors examined, alone or together, were found to be significant enough to fully account for the racial gap.
Evidence now suggests that years of dealing with discrimination—living in poor, segregated neighborhoods, having to move frequently, parenting alone, or parenting with an unemployed partner—may lead to chronic stress, which takes a toll on the body and may prompt biological changes in a woman that can affect the health of her children.
“We literally embody, biologically, the societal and ecological conditions in which we grow up and develop and live,” Kreiger said.
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