STUDY: Children of Color More Likely to Die From Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Than Whites

By Kenrya Rankin May 15, 2017

A new study shows that health disparities for people of color living in America begin right out of the womb.

In 1994, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development created the Back to Sleep campaign, which was aimed at reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Data shows that infant deaths dropped dramatically when people began consistently putting babies on their backs to sleep, but “Racial and Ethnic Trends in Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths: United States, 1995–2013,” found that the decrease was not uniform across races and ethnicities.

Published online today (May 15) from the June 2017 issue “Pediatrics,” the study found that Native Americans and Alaska Natives have the nation’s highest rate of unexplained deaths, at 177.6 per 100,000 live births. That number is down from 237.5 per 100,000 in 1995. African Americans are next with 172.4 deaths (previously 203), then non-Hispanic Whites at 84.5 (from 93), followed by 49.3 for Hispanics (down from 62.7) and 28.3 for Asians and Pacific Islanders (previously 59.3).


Sharyn Parks, study co-author and Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) epidemiologist, told NPR that the study didn’t control for factors like socioeconomics, prenatal care and feeding choices, which could all be potential factors. But the study does conclude that not putting babies to sleep on their backs, using improper bedding in cribs and bassinets, bedsharing, and biological factors including brainstem abnormalities contribute to deaths. Researchers also found that most SIDS deaths occurred at one to two months of age, and that biological boys are more likely to die in this manner across all groups.