Infant mortality rate counts the number of infants who die in the first year of life per 1,000 live births. (Jenn Stanley/MEDILL)

African-American babies are almost three times as likely to die in the first year of life as white infants in Illinois, according to an analysis conducted by Medill News Service of infant mortality health data in the state.   

And the racial disparities, which exist throughout the nation, are particularly high in the Great Lakes region. 

The struggle for African-American infants is complex, and researchers are still grasping for answers. 

“Even among the children of affluent African-American women, there were higher infant mortality rates than with their white counterparts,” said Flavia Andrade, assistant professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Overall, Illinois appears on track to reach a federal goal (Healthy People 2020s) to reduce infant deaths to 6 per 1,000 live births. But according to the Medill analysis, African-Americans likely will not reach that target. 

The overall infant mortality rate in Illinois was 6.8 in early 2013.Still, a look at the most recent numbers released by the Illinois Department of Public Health paints a grim picture. The mortality rate of black infants was about 14 compared with 5.4 among white infants.

African-American infants die from complications of preterm birth and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS) at a disproportionate rate. While the overall preterm birth rate in Illinois has been on a slow but steady decline, as of 2011 the rate among black mothers was 1.6 times that of white mothers, according to the March of Dimes. Recent studies have been addressing these disparities. 

In 2013, the March of Dimes, which had its annual Walk for Babies in Chicago on April 27, launched the Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative. Part of its mission is to explore the sociobiology of racial disparities.

“Factors that influence preterm birth rates are complex and overlapping, including both medical and social determinants of health,” according to Rebecca O’Halloran Evans, spokesperson for March of Dimes’ Illinois chapter. “As part of its Prematurity Campaign, the March of Dimes has funded research to understand the causes of racial and ethnic disparities, and interventions to help increase health equity.”