Topeka African-American infants in Kansas are nearly three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white or Hispanic infants, according to a new report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
KDHE reported recently that the overall infant mortality rate in Kansas stood at 5.9 per 1,000 live births in 2016. That's roughly the same as the national average and unchanged from the year before, with only 223 infant deaths reported in the year, the lowest number ever recorded in Kansas.
Among white, non-Hispanic infants, the death rate was 5.2, and among Hispanic infants it was 5.1. But among African-American infants, the death rate was 15.2 per 1,000 live births.
That disparity showed up in both stages of infancy, the neonatal period, or first 27 days of life, and the post neonatal period.
KDHE spokesman Jerry Kratochvil said the agency is unable to explain the disparity.
"What we know is that it does exist, and because we know it does exist, that’s why we have our outreach programs to at-risk communities," he said.
Kratochvil also said that disparity was consistent with national patterns.
"It's not just a Kansas phenomenon," he said. "But it is something that we identify and that we're working towards reducing and one day eliminating."
According to the report, during the five-year period from 2012 through 2016, the leading cause of infant death was congenital anomalies such as heart disease, Down syndrome and spina bifida. Those accounted for about 22 percent of all the infant deaths.
Other leading causes included prematurity and low birth weight; accidental death or unexplained causes, including sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS; and maternal factors, including complications with the pregnancy or delivery.
The report also said there was a correlation between infant mortality and the social and economic status of the mother.
For example, Medicaid was the source of payment for 32.4 percent of all live births during the five-year period, but that group accounted for 44.5 percent of the infant deaths.
Women with only a high school education or less were most likely to lose their child in the first year, accounting for nearly a quarter of all infant deaths during the five-year period. They were followed by women with some college education but no degree.
In addition, women who were not married at the time of pregnancy accounted for nearly half of all infant deaths, but only 36.3 percent of all live births.
Smoking also appeared to be a factor in some cases. Women who reported that they smoked during their pregnancy accounted for only 11.9 percent of all live births, but 21.1 percent of all infant deaths.
Kratochvil said in Kansas, public health programs that address issues such as infant mortality are run primarily at the local level through city and county health departments.
"Some of these at-risk areas are, for instance, in Wyandotte County, and they will know the best ways to spend those monies, whereas out west they have an aging population where they might not have a birth in a month," he said.