The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a report that has once again placed a spotlight on the high mortality rate of Black babies, which in Kansas is nearly three times higher than White or Hispanic infants, KCTV 5 reported. The report offered the usual causes but overlooked the psychological impact of institutionalized racism on Black mothers.
RELATED: Why Are Black Babies Dying?
“It’s not just a Kansas phenomenon. But it is something that we identify and that we’re working towards reducing and one day eliminating,” a spokesman for the agency stated about the national disparity.
The report spanned a five-year period from 2012 through 2016. It found an overall infant mortality rate of 5.9 per 1,000 live births in 2016, which is similar to the national average. The mortality rate for Black infants in Kansas was 15.2. Issues with prenatal care, such as smoking, contributed to more than 21 percent of infant deaths. Congenital illnesses, like heart disease, was also a factor. Other contributors to the gap included prematurity, low birth weight and accidental death.
An underappreciated contributor to Black infant mortality is the mother’s stress from racial discrimination. A growing body of research examines how factors like living in ghettos and dealing with employment discrimination create chronic stress that causes biological damage to pregnant women, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. “We literally embody, biologically, the societal and ecological conditions in which we grow up and develop and live,” Nancy Krieger, a Harvard professor of social epidemiology, told The Nation. The infant mortality gap cannot close without addressing a broad range of inequalities, including the criminal justice and education systems, said Krieger, who has researched infant mortality rates in the Jim Crow South and in contemporary times.