A new study has shown a huge racial difference in infant deaths.
Researchers found that babies born to African Americans had the highest rate of sudden unexpected deaths in 2020.
The authors concluded that Black infants die nearly three times the rate of white babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released research on March 13, that found a 15% increase in sudden infant deaths among babies of all races from 2019 to 2020.
In the United States, SIDS is the third leading cause of infant death after congenital abnormalities and premature birth. SIDS is also the most common cause of infant death in the United States.
The authors attributed the rise in SIDS cases to diagnostic shifting, where causes of death are reclassified.
They said the rise in deaths among Black infants happened at the same time the coronavirus pandemic started in late 2019. The virus disproportionately affected Black communities.
“Evidence does not support direct or indirect effects of the pandemic on increased rates of sudden unexpected infant death, except for non-Hispanic Black infants,” the study authors stated.
They have called for more research, but also noted the many ways in which the pandemic wreaked havoc on African Americans. The study found that SIDS death increased by 15%, from 33.3 deaths per 100,000 babies born in 2019 to 38.2 per 100,000 babies born in 2020.
In data collection, both SIDS and incidents of accidental suffocation or strangulation fall under the umbrella term SUID, or sudden unexplained infant death.
Unlike SIDS, the rates of SUIDs are categorized by race and ethnicity, and researchers found an increase in unexplained deaths in Black infants.
They didn’t find an increase among any other group.
The study’s author, Sharyn Parks Brown, told NBC News that the finding was absolutely a surprise. She is a senior epidemiologist for the CDC’s Perinatal and Infant Health Team.
“The racial and ethnic breakdowns of such deaths had been consistent for decades,” she said.
Reasons for the jump are unknown, NBC reported.
The authors said that the increase could be a statistical anomaly. They said they would check the data for several more years to see if the increase was real or not.
It could also reflect adjustments the National Association of Medical Examiners made in 2019 to how sudden infant deaths are classified on death certificates.
According to NBC News, the guidance said finding babies on or near soft bedding was not enough to say the deaths were caused by suffocation, because there was no evidence the airways had been blocked.
Those cases, according to the recommendations, should be classified as SIDS.
“If the new guidance was followed, this could have led to increased reporting of SIDS,” the study authors wrote.