Racism and racial bias can have devastating effects on your mental and physical health — that's sadly well known to be true. But a new study sheds light on an even more dismal aspect of this kind of discrimination: that it happens to babies, too.
In a new study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers at the Stanford University of Medicine found that a child's race and ethnicity could determine the quality of care that they received in neonatal intensive care units.
Researchers studied 19,000 babies born between 2010 and 2014 in 134 NICUs in California, assessing the quality of their healthcare. The researchers used the Baby-MONITOR, an indicator that consists of nine measures of quality, including whether or not they received an eye exam, and whether or not they were given breast milk before being discharged.
As a whole, white newborns received the best care, followed by Asian-American infants. African-American babies had lower scores of quality of care, and Hispanic infants and infants who qualified as "other," such as American Indian and Alaskan Native infants, had even lower scores.
However, the disparities varied from hospital to hospital. At some hospitals, minority infants received poorer quality of care than white infants, but at others, they received better care. The study also found that Black and Hispanic infants were more likely than white infants to receive care in poorer-quality NICUs. The hospitals that generally provided the best outcome and care for their patients also provided better care for white infants.
"On a population basis there are general trends — the higher proportion of African American or Hispanic infants in an NICU, the lower the overall quality scores tend to be," the study's senior author, Jochen Profit, MD, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But even there, there’s a lot of variation where some hospitals we think of as serving a really vulnerable population actually are among the better performers in the state."
"There's a long history of disparity in healthcare delivery, and our study shows that the NICU is really no different," he added in a press release.
Dr. Profit said that he hopes the study shines more light on the unconscious biases that are disproportionately affecting minority infants. While racial disparities in healthcare aren't new, it's harrowing to see that they begin having an impact so early in life.
"For many of these infants, their time in the NICU sets them on track for their entire life," Profit said in the statement. "If we can get things right early on, that could have a huge long-term effect."
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