CDC Report Highlights Stark Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Infant Mortality

  ·  Health Policy Hub   ·   Eva Marie Stahl

Photo Credit: Olu Cocker via

In the first week of the New Year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on infant mortality, and the news is not good. Using linked birth and infant death data from 2013-2015, the report breaks down infant mortality rates by state for race and Hispanic origin. The report shows that the stubbornly high rate of infant death for the children of non-Hispanic black women remains a public health crisis across the country while the infant mortality rates for Hispanic women reached double the rate of non-Hispanic white women in some states. These trends are worth diving into as we build out our advocacy priorities for 2018.

Key findings include:

  • For non-Hispanic black women, the infant mortality rates are double that of non-Hispanic white women. Five of the nine highest rates are in Midwestern states, with Wisconsin at the highest rate: 14.28 per 1,000 live births. States that hold rates above the national average include Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.
  • For Hispanic women, the infant mortality rate ranges from 7.28 in Michigan to 3.94 in Iowa—eight states were above the national average: Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.
  • Infant mortality rates for non-Hispanic white women are highly variable, but the lowest rates of infant death are in the West and Northeast. Notably, states in these regions also tend to have lower uninsured rates broadly.

The CDC’s findings reinforce that racial and ethnic health disparities are quite stark throughout the country. However, the report does not provide critical data on the high rates of infant mortality for American Indian/Alaska Natives and Asian American/Pacific Islanders and it does not drill down into different rates across ethnicity categories. The CDC should provide further analyses so that we can fully understand mortality rates for all infants.

The report should prompt advocates to dig deeper into the infant mortality rate in your state and include improving birth outcomes in your 2018 policy agenda. Women of color’s lack of access to prenatal and postnatal care is central to changing infant mortality rates. Initiatives like Black Mamas Matter are working to address the broader spectrum of women needs including the social determinants of health and access to community resources such as social networks that support women before and beyond their pregnancies. Layered throughout these needs are the very real and toxic effects of racism—both in everyday life and across the health and human service systems.

From where we sit, the CDC’s report is a reminder of the importance of programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in keeping the coverage door open to women throughout their life, enabling them to care for themselves and their infants. At the start of 2018, both programs remain at risk with CHIP in a particularly precarious state.

As we continue our work in the new year, we need make it a priority to amplify the persistent racial disparities for women and infants of color. Working to reduce those disparities should be central to our efforts to secure health and wellness for all.