Officials in New Mexico have voiced concern over data indicating an increase in Hispanic infant mortality rates across the state.
According to a report from the Associated Press, the infant mortality rate has gone up across the state from 5.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011 to 6.9 in 2012, with the most notable increases seen for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites during the neonatal period.
Birth defects, low birth weight and disorders related to preterm births were the most common causes of infant deaths contributing to the mortality increase.
Hispanics and infant mortality
Infant mortality is not an area Hispanics can afford to see an increase. According to the Office of Minority Health (OMH), the national infant mortality rates for groups who identify themselves as Hispanic varies from 4.5 per 1,000 live births for Central and South Americans to 7.2 per 1,000 live births for Puerto Ricans.
The largest disparity, among Puerto Rican Americans, indicates this Hispanic subgroup has a 40 percent higher infant mortality rate compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
While there is no definitive answer as to why Puerto Ricans experience higher rates of infant death, Tara Owens Shuler, MEd, LCCE, FACCE, President of Lamaze International and Director of the Duke University AHEC Lamaze Childbirth Educator Program, told Saludify earlier this year Puerto Rican women are reportedly more likely to be overweight or obese, and they tend to live in cities that face more environmental stresses.
Each of these are contributing factors to low birth weight babies–the primary cause of Puerto Rican infant mortality.
“Of all the subgroups, low birth weight is the leading cause of infant death among Puerto Rican American women,” said Owens Shuler.“This is similar to the leading cause of infant death reported for African American women. The reasons for health disparities remain largely unexplained for ethnic groups; however, some researchers believe factors like education, occupation and geography can explain some of the differences and similarities.”
But Puerto Ricans aren’t the only Hispanics who need to worry about infant mortality rates.
The OMH indicates Hispanic mothers are almost twice as likely to begin prenatal care in the 3rd trimester or not receive prenatal care at all as compared to non-Hispanic white mothers who tend to seek care much earlier in a pregnancy.
Mexican American mothers, for example, are 1.9 times as likely as non-Hispanic white mothers to begin prenatal care in the 3rd trimester, or not receive prenatal care at all.
Infant mortality in minorities
While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact reason as to why Hispanics in New Mexico are experiencing an increase in infant mortality rates, in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicated there were five major risk factors for infant mortality: alcohol use, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and chronic mental stress.
Of these, Hispanics are disproportionately affected by diabetes and obesity, and more likely than other groups to delay care related to mental health. These factors put Hispanics at an increased risk for infant mortality, but further investigation is needed into the specific reasons New Mexico has seen an increase.
Health Secretary Retta Ward says the department will monitor the numbers closely to see if the increase indicates a trend, but the has been actively seeking ways to decrease infant mortality numbers since 2012.