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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Race and Health Care

McClatchy News has a story addressing the potential causes for the differences in infant mortality deaths among various races in the United States.  The article states,

A new series of studies from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies' Health Policy Institute, along with a small but growing number of neonatalogists nationwide, suggests that the stressful effects of racism play a role.

"That's the elephant in the room," said Michael Lu, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies disparities in infant health. "When we're studying racial disparities, for decades people have looked at stress and infant mortality without looking at the reasons for the stress."

Black infant mortality is a complicated puzzle that includes poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, teen pregnancy, heredity, high blood pressure, stress, obesity, low birth weights and prematurity. However, some neonatologists and child health advocates have pushed for more research to get behind the social reasons why these factors seem to take a higher toll on African-American infants than they do on other babies.

For the 600 black women in Atlanta who participated in a related study on the effects of racial discrimination on health, the reasons for their higher stress levels ranged from hearing white teachers comment on "those kids" to working extra long hours to win acceptance from white colleagues.  "The pregnancy scares the life out of me because I am pregnant with a baby boy, and I know how black boys are treated in this society," one study participant told researchers from Spelman College and Emory University in Atlanta.

In his research, Lu and his colleagues found that the disproportionately higher number of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores, lower number of grocery stores and the higher cost of fresh produce in many urban, predominately black communities caused poorer pregnant black women to make stressful choices about what to eat and where to live. So did the higher crime rates in these communities and worries about sending children to poorly equipped, understaffed schools.  Lu and other researchers see these factors as part of a trend of racial inequality that's stressful to some poorer black expectant mothers. . . . A PBS documentary, "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick," slated to air next year, explores the disparity in infant mortality and other ways in which racial and social inequality may affect health care.

The entire article provides insight and new understanding to a serious public health issue.

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