the overall preterm birth rate in Illinois has been on a slow
decline, as of 2011, the rate among black mothers was 1.6 times that of white
mothers, according to the March of Dimes.
African-American babies are almost three times as likely to die in the first year of life than white infants in Illinois. Though racial disparities in the infant mortality rate exist throughout the United States, they are particularly high in the Great Lakes region.
The struggle for African-American infants is complex, and researchers are still grasping for answers.
"Even among the children of affluent African-American women, there were higher infant mortality rates than with their white counterparts," said Flavia Andrade, assistant professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Overall, it appears Illinois is on track to reach a federal initiative Healthy People 2020’s goal to reduce infant deaths to 6 per 1,000 live births. But according a data analysis by Medill Reports, African-Americans likely will not reach that target.
Early numbers from 2013 show that the overall infant mortality rate in Illinois was 6.8. Still, a look at the most recent data released by the Illinois Department of Public Health paints a grim picture. The mortality rate of African-American infants was about 14 compared with 5.4 among white infants, according to the state agency.
African-American infants die from complications of preterm birth and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SUIDS, at a disproportionate rate. While the overall preterm birth rate in Illinois has been on a slow but steady decline, as of 2011, the rate among black mothers was 1.6 times that of white mothers, according to the March of Dimes.
Recent studies have been addressing these disparities. In 2013, the March of Dimes, which had its annual Walk for Babies in Chicago on Sunday, launched the Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative. Part of its mission is to explore the sociobiology of racial disparities.
“Factors that influence preterm birth rates are complex, multifactorial, and overlapping, including both medical and social determinants of health,” Rebecca O’Halloran Evans, an Illinois spokeswoman with March of Dimes said in an email. “As part of its Prematurity Campaign, the March of Dimes has funded research to understand the causes of racial and ethnic disparities, and interventions to help increase health equity.”
Part two puts the spotlight on Chicago, breaking down racial disparities on a neighborhood level.