According to American Journal of Public Health: United States infant mortality rates fell 13 percent from 2000 to 2013. During the same period, the number black infants who died before their first birthday was 11.1 deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared with just 5.1 deaths for every 1,000 white newborns.  Researchers used government records to calculate infant mortality rates in 35 states; some states had too few deaths to analyze significant differences between the groups of babies. Infant mortality rates improved in all states for black babies during the study. Arizona, Iowa and Massachusetts, reduced infant mortality by at least 30 percent during the study period.  Using these results, researchers calculated that 18 states would achieve equal infant mortality rates for black and white babies by 2050.

Researchers found wide variation among states as to how black babies fared relative to white infants. Massachusetts reduced the racial gap in infant mortality by 24 percent. Tennessee showed a 23 percent reduction and Arizona had a 22 percent decline. The gap widened by less than 1 percent in New Jersey and Illinois and increased almost 12 percent in Kansas.

Low birth weight, preterm deliveries, birth defects and pregnancy complications are the leading causes of black infant mortality for newborns. Before reaching their first birthday, birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome or accidental injuries are the primary cause of death for black infants.

The study did not include assessments of how certain state policies might influence differences in infant mortality rates. Nor did researchers examine mortality rates for Hispanic babies or other racial and ethnic groups that are a major proportion of the population in certain states.  Per Sam Harper, a public health researcher at McGill University in Montreal who wasn’t involved in the study. “Women can do many things to make infant deaths less likely, including eating well, avoiding smoking, and getting good prenatal care during pregnancy, Harper said.”

Key Points:

  • 1Infant mortality rates are arrived at by calculating the number of infants that die before their first birthday.
  • 2Infants of African American descent have a higher mortality rate, which is attributed to low birth weight, preterm deliveries, birth defects and pregnancy complications.
  • 3All women can predispose their newborns to survive infant mortality, by eating healthily, not smoking, and by getting good prenatal care.


By the end of the study, state-level black infant mortality rates ranged from 6.65 to 13.77 deaths for every 1,000 live births.

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