March of Dimes Raises Awareness About Racial Disparities in Premature Birth for Black History Month

| Wednesday, January 14, 2015

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Maitland, Florida, January 14, 2015 —

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of the rich culture and history of the African-American community. March of Dimes, the leader in mom and baby health, is participating by raising awareness about the significant disparity in prematurity rates between black infants and those of other races.

Birth outcomes in the United States show considerable variation by race and ethnicity. The factors that influence disparities in perinatal health care are complex and not fully understood. According to the Florida March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, released last November, the preterm birth rate (all live births less than 37 completed weeks gestation) for black infants was 17.7 percent, followed by Native American, 17.0 percent; Hispanic, 14.3 percent; Asian, 12.3 percent; and white, 11.2 percent.

Racial and ethnic disparities also occur in other birth outcomes, such as low birthweight and infant mortality. March of Dimes reports that during 2010 – 2012, black infants (13.2 percent) were about twice as likely as Hispanic infants (7.2 percent) to be born low birthweight (less than 5 ½ pounds). Likewise, during 2008 – 2010, the infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) in Florida was highest for black infants (11.9 percent), followed by Native Americans (5.6 percent), whites (5.2 percent) and Asians (5.1 percent).

“This important celebration of the African-American heritage is a great opportunity to talk about the high prematurity rates that persist among black families,” said Dr. Karen Harris, Chair of the Program Services Committee for the Florida Chapter of the March of Dimes. “Although we have no definitive explanations for why prematurity affects this group more often than others, poor prenatal care, malnutrition, socioeconomic status, genetics, stress and unhealthy habits, such as smoking, might all be contributing factors.”

According to the Health Disparities and Inequalities Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the years 2006 to 2010 the preterm birth rate for black infants decreased by 8 percent; however, it still remained approximately 60 percent higher than that of white infants. The CDC also reports that black infants have had the highest risk for preterm birth since at least 1981, the year when comparable data on gestational age became available.

“Although the prematurity rate in general began to decline in 2007, black infants are still more likely to be born late preterm,” added Dr. Harris. “We are urging the state to support funding and innovative practices that address fundamental medical and social factors related to racial disparities in premature birth.” March of Dimes is also strongly committed to the goal set by Healthy People 2020, the public health objectives for the nation, to eliminate disparities in perinatal health.

March of Dimes is currently working toward the reduction of disparities in birth outcomes in Florida. One of the goals of the strategic mission investment of the Florida Chapter is to obtain a 2 percent overall decrease in the preterm birth disparity between black babies and white babies by the end of 2015. Working toward this goal, the organization recently funded and partnered with REACHUP – whose goal is to help communities achieve equality in healthcare and positive health for families – on the “Undoing Racism” and “Affirming Fatherhood” workshops in Tampa, which had a 100 percent satisfaction rate among the 154 fathers attending.

March of Dimes Florida Chapter is also involved with other organizations that target minority groups, such as the sorority Zeta Phi Beta, whose Stork’s Nest program aims to prevent birth defects and infant mortality among black women, and to promote healthy behaviors during pregnancy. The program keeps an inventory of essential supplies for moms and babies, and provides incentives that motivate women to adopt healthy behaviors and lifestyles.

In addition to engaging in advocacy efforts for minority health and other programs concerned with health disparities, the March of Dimes awards grants to support research and programs that benefit minority populations. In 2014 the Florida Chapter funded projects by Stork’s Nest of Jacksonville, allowing it to purchase baby items and educational resources, and by Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, to promote prenatal and interconception health. Both grants were made to benefit low-income African American women in particular.

The March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For more than 75 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook at @marchofdimesflorida, Twitter at @marchofdimesfl, and Instagram at @marchofdimesflorida.

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Media Contacts:
Rochelle Darman, State Director of Marketing and Communications, 754-300-2610.

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

Visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org for more information. Visit shareyourstory.org for comfort and support. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.