Study: Black babies are less likely to die when cared for by a Black doctor

Why do Black newborns have a relatively high mortality rate in the U.S. — and how does the race of the doctor factor in?

person holding baby
Credit: pxhere / public domain
  • A new study examined nearly 2 million births in Florida from 1992 to 2015.
  • The results showed that, when cared more by a white doctor, Black newborns are 3 times more likely to die than white newborns.
  • The researchers said several "disturbing" factors are likely at play.

The U.S. infant mortality rate has overall been dropping for decades, but there remain significant racial disparities. Black newborns are about 2.3 times more likely to die than white newborns, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health. Still, the precise causes have been unclear.

A new study offers insight into one little-understood factor: the race of the physician. The results showed that when the physician is white, Black newborns are three more times likely to die than white newborns. But when the physician is Black, that rate drops by roughly half.

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The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. For the study, researchers examined the birth records of about 2 million babies born in Florida between 1992 to 2015. To collect data on race, they obtained photographs of the attending physician for each birth record.

The results showed that Black newborns experienced 430 more fatalities per 100,000 births than white newborns. Under the care of Black physicians, that "mortality penalty" for Black newborns dropped to 173.

The study listed several other key findings:

  • In complicated medical situations, Black newborns are even more likely to survive when the physician is Black.
  • Black newborns are also especially likely to survive when cared for by Black physicians at hospitals that deliver more Black babies.
  • The race of the physician didn't impact the mortality rate of mothers.

Potential causes

Why might the race of the attending physician matter? Although the researchers didn't examine the root causes of the disparity, they did mention that factors like eclampsia and preeclampsia (dangerous conditions that afflict Black women at disproportionate rates), socioeconomic inequality, racial biases, and institutional racism may play a part.

Brad Greenwood, study co-author and an associate professor of Information Systems & Operations Management Sciences at George Mason University, told USA Today that a mix of "disturbing" structural influences could be contributing to the problem.

"I don't think any of us would suggest as co-authors that these results are manifesting as a result of malicious bias on the part of physicians," Greenwood said. "I also think that underscores how insidious something like this is. Children are dying as a result of just structural problems."

One part of the problem, potentially, is that only 5 percent of doctors in the U.S. are Black, even though Black Americans represent 13 percent of the population. Still, representation is only one part of this complex issue, according to study co-author Rachel Hardeman, a reproductive health equity researcher and associate professor at the University of Minnesota.

"It could go a long ways to helping with this, but also we don't know that the answer is necessarily that we just need more Black doctors," she told USA Today. "We have to be thinking about the health care institutions themselves and how physicians are being trained ... to think about the role of race and racism in the clinical encounter but also in people's lives outside of health care settings."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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