Doctors' Notes

PBS Documentary Highlights Infant Death Rates

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Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


African-American babies are three times more likely to die in the first year of life than babies in other groups.

A PBS documentary airing Saturday, November 15 is set to highlight this crisis facing our community.

Black infant death rates in this country are comparable to infant death rates in developing nations. In the upcoming episode “Surviving Year One,” Maria Hinojosa, host of America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa, exposes the factors contributing to this gap in Rochester, NY and investigates programs and organizations that have been effective in improving survival rates of babies born in our community.

Although filmed in Rochester, NY, Hinojosa insists that the findings of this documentary are representative of many predominantly African-American and Latino communities where poverty exists.

“The center city is predominantly African-American and Latino and the poverty rate there is 70 percent,” she says. “Research suggests that poverty and all its associated factors are strong predictors for infant mortality.”

Also brought to light in the documentary as a factor in high rates of infant mortality is a concept known as “toxic stress.”  According to Hinojosa, researchers have described toxic stress experienced by African-American mothers as “constant and relentless stress, including threats to their survival and daily concerns about sustenance, and also resulting from institutional racism and disparities in opportunity.”  It is then thought that this chronic stress leads to a release of stress hormones that lead to premature or pre-term birth.

Surviving Year One profiles various programs aimed at decreasing infant mortality from a comprehensive standpoint.  Hinojosa says the programs that work include a combination of strategies from home visits and counseling to stress reduction workshops, yoga, job training and clothing and food banks.  Hinojosa also contends that we still have work to do to improve the death rates of the babies in our community.

“We must value every child regardless of where he or she is born and provide each person equal access and support to accomplish healthy outcomes,” she says.

America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa: Surviving Year One airs Saturday, November 15th 6:30pm EST.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!