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Black babies are two times as likely to die before they reach their first birthday than white babies. That's just one of the startling facts in Priska Neely's reporting on a gap in birth outcomes that has persisted for years.

Poverty, education, health care access are all factors. But now research is focused on the role of racism in these statistics.

It's simply a chronically stressful condition to be a black woman in the United States. Priska Neely is the senior early childhood reporter at our member station KPCC, which is where she's joining us from today.

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Prematurity is the leading cause here. So most of the babies are born too early and too small. This is not a new issue, and it goes back decades.

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I did some digging in the library and actually found a transcript of a congressional hearing from that was called Failure To Close The Black-White Gap. But, you know, here we are 30 years later, and the gap is still there. Fewer babies die in general now as we've gotten better at health care and keeping preemies alive, but that gap is still there. So over the decades, society has kind of shifted from looking at this as an individual issue, from, like, blaming black moms for their behavior to then questioning whether genetics are part of it.

That doesn't explain it. There have been studies done looking at the birth outcomes for African immigrants who come to the U.

And their outcomes are more similar to white women. And now the field is really focused on looking at what's called the social determinants of health and looking at how structural and institutional racism contribute to this issue.

So a few things here. One is looking at how different communities have actually been limited to accessing certain things like health care. But there's - also, when you look at White women having black babies racism, there's something that's called weathering. That's a term that was coined by a researcher back in the s - looking at how black women's bodies respond to stress over time. And the social experience of being a black woman in the United States can put you at a heightened state.

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