Friday, January 20, 2012

New DHS Data Show Continuing Racial Disparities in Birth Outcomes

Black Infant Mortality Rate Declines, But Remains Nearly Three Times the White Rate

Following up on yesterday’s blog post about the proposals of the Special Committee on Infant Mortality, it’s timely to note that today the Department of Health Services issued its annual report on “Wisconsin Births and Infant Deaths” (for 2010). The report's findings relating to trends in infant mortality are mostly positive; however, there continue to be disturbing aspects of the data, especially relating to racial disparities. Consider the following:
  • Wisconsin’s black infant mortality rate declined in 2010 to 13.9 (deaths per 1,000 births to black/African American women), compared to 14.3 in 2009 and 16.8 in 2000.
  • Although that trend is encouraging, the black infant mortality rate in 2010 was still nearly 3 times the white rate of 4.9 deaths (which has dropped from 5.6 in 2000).
  • The Hispanic/Latino infant mortality rate for 2010 was 4.4 (per 1,000), compared to 5.5 in 2009 and 4.7 in 2000.
  • Based on three-year rolling averages, the American Indian infant mortality has dropped sharply over the last two decades. The 3-year average rate was 7.3 (per 1,000) in 2008-2010, which was less than half the rate of 15.8 in the 1988-90 period.
  • The disparity ratio between the black infant mortality rate and the white rate increased from 2.2 in 1990-1992 to 2.7 in 2008-2010.  (The disparity ratio is the black infant mortality rate divided by the white rate.)
Some of the other statistics that caught my eye in the 120-page report include the following:
  • Wisconsin’s teen birth rate continues to decline – falling in 2010 to 26.2 (births per 1,000 females ages 15-19), compared to 29.3 in 2009 and 42 in 1990, and it remains well below the national rate which was 41.5 in 2008 (the most current national data).
  • Since 1990, the birth rate for black/African American women decreased 28 percent (to about 80 per 1,000 in 2010), while the white rate fell by almost 5 percent. During that period, the Asian birth rate decreased 34 percent (to 78.5 per 1,000 Asian females aged 15-44).
  • In 2010, 13 percent of Wisconsin women who gave birth had not finished high school, compared to 16 percent in 2000.
  • The overall proportion of women who received first-trimester prenatal care finished the decade where it started, at 84 percent in 2010, which is disappointing.
  • The proportion of women giving birth who reported they smoked during pregnancy decreased from 16 percent in 2000 to 13 percent in 2010.
  • The overall percent of cesarean sections increased from 17.6 percent of births in 1990 to 26.1 percent in 2010.
Based on the continuing high racial disparities in birth outcomes, I hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future, legislators can dust off the numerous recommendations for reducing infant mortality that were not approved by the Legislative Council on January 18, and will advance a comprehensive package of measures for improving birth outcomes and reducing the stubborn divide between the races.

Jon Peacock

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