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 for 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.

Twitter

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."

3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

Excavation of a triceratops skull in South Dakota.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
Surprising Science
  • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
  • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
  • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Keep reading Show less

To the very beginning: going back in time with Steven Weinberg (Part 2)

What was the universe like one-trillionth of a second after the Big Bang? Science has an answer.

Credit: gonin via Adobe Stock
13-8
  • Following Steven Weinberg's lead, we plunge further back into cosmic history, beyond the formation of atomic nuclei.
  • Today, we discuss the origin of the quark-gluon plasma and the properties of the famous Higgs boson, the "God Particle."
  • Is there a limit? How far can we go back in time?
Keep reading Show less

Surprisingly modern lessons from classic Russian literature

Though gloomy and dense, Russian literature is hauntingly beautiful, offering a relentlessly persistent inquiry into the human experience.

Credit: George Cerny via Unsplash
Personal Growth
  • Russian literature has a knack for precisely capturing and describing the human condition.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are among the greatest writers who ever lived.
  • If you want to be a wiser person, spend time with the great Russian novelists.
Keep reading Show less
Technology & Innovation

Do we still need math?

We spend much of our early years learning arithmetic and algebra. What's the use?

Quantcast