A baby being weighed Oliver H / Wikimedia
Oliver H / Wikimedia

Washington – White women in Connecticut have one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the nation, but Hispanic infant mortality rates in the state are among the highest.

The infant mortality gap in the state was documented by the Centers for Disease Control in a report released Thursday.

Infant mortality has long been a basic measure of public health. The report said the overall infant mortality rate in the United States is improving and lower than a decade ago, declining 14 percent from 6.86 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 5.9 in 2015.

The report, which tracked infant deaths from 2013 to 2015, showed no improvement in mortality rates from 2014 to 2015.

The infant mortality rate among white women in Connecticut was 3.53 per 1,000 live births, significantly lower than the national average.

But for Hispanic women in Connecticut, the infant mortality rate was nearly double that of white mothers, 6.91 per 1,000 live births, much higher than most other states and the national average, which was 4.9. “There were eight states with infant mortality rates significantly higher than the U.S. rate: Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas,” the report said.

In contrast, neighboring New York and New Jersey had lower-than-average infant mortality rates among Hispanic women.

But it is black, non-Hispanic mothers that suffer from the highest infant mortality rate in Connecticut, though the state fares better than the nation as a whole. The national average was 11.1 per 1,000 live births. In Connecticut the rate for black infant deaths was 9.96 per 1,000 live births.

“While Connecticut is a national leader in many aspects of public health, health equity issues persist throughout the state, especially our urban centers,” said Maura Downes, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health. “Infant mortality is one of those areas where we see health disparities; addressing those disparities remains a top priority at the Department of Public Health.”

Connecticut’s Hispanic population, while varied, is still heavily Puerto Rican. Of the 540,000 Hispanics in Connecticut counted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014, about 302,000 identified themselves as being born in Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican heritage.

The large number of those of Puerto Rican heritage could account for the state’s high infant mortality rate in its Hispanic community, said T.J. Mathews, a demographer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

“Among Hispanics, Puerto Ricans consistently have the highest rate of infant mortality,” Mathews said. “Cubans have the lowest. In fact Cubans have the lowest infant mortality rates, bar none.”

Mathews said the CDC does not know why Puerto Ricans have such high infant mortality rates.

The CDC report involved data from the National Vital Statistics System, including birth and death certificates from 2013 through 2015 for infants under 1 year old.

It was the first time the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics tracked rates by race and ethnicity.

The highest mortality rate for infants of Hispanic women was 7.28 per 1,000 live births in Michigan, 1.8 times as high as the lowest rate of 3.94 in Iowa.

Georges Benjamin, an internist and executive director for the American Public Health Association, said the biggest cause of the death of a baby in its first year of life is low birth weight.

And that, he said, can be a result of many causes. “It’s really complex, it’s really not one thing that is going to cause this,” Benjamin said.

The health of the mother, both before and during pregnancy, can be a factor, as is smoking and substance abuse. The age of a mother, being either too young or too old, is also a factor.

So is access to health care.

“Having health insurance is a big factor,” Benjamin said.

In a recent study, the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that the uninsured rate among Connecticut’s Hispanic population is 12 percent, double the non-Hispanic white uninsured rate of 6 percent in the state.

Downes of the Connecticut Department of Public Health said significant contributors to disparities in infant mortality rates include access to maternal health services, unplanned pregnancies — particularly among women of lower socio-economic status — teen pregnancy, and low birth weight, “which we tend to see more often in babies born to black and Hispanic mothers than white mothers.”

“Connecticut has made great strides in reducing teen pregnancy rates, but more work remains to be done to address the other factors driving the infant mortality disparities between babies born to white women and non-white women,” Downes said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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