BOCA RATON, Fla. — Infant deaths from accidental strangulation and suffocation while in bed have more than tripled over the past two decades in the United States, a stunning new study reveals.
The finding by researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Medicine concerns researchers especially because the rate of infants who die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been declining for years. Researchers also discovered large increases in racial inequalities in this regard.
Study findings show similar risk factors for non-Hispanic black infants and non-Hispanic white infants. But non-Hispanic black infant mortality rates were higher than non-Hispanic whites. The study also generated new theories about how infant deaths occur in bed and highlighted racial inequalities.
The researchers pulled federal statistics that examined race, ethnicity, and gender-specific infant mortality rates in each state between 1999 and 2016. The findings showed that infant mortality rates increased from 10.4 per 100,000 live births in 1999 to 45.8 per 100,000 live births in 2016 among non-Hispanic black female infants. The rate increased for non-Hispanic black male infants from 15.4 to 53.8 per 100,000 live births, from 5.9 to 15.8 for non-Hispanic white female infants, and from 6.5 to 25.9 for non-Hispanic white male infants.
The data also revealed a startling statistic: Between 2007 and 2016, a staggering 83% of all U.S. deaths in bed among non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white infants occurred in the Midwest and the South at the time of delivery.
Interestingly, when the authors compared two generally low-income, Southern states, they found drastically different infant mortality statistics. Alabama had 46 deaths per 362,404 live births for non-Hispanic white infants and 41 deaths per 185,549 live births for non-Hispanic black infants. Alabama’s neighbor Mississippi, however, had 93 deaths per 206,819 live births for non-Hispanic white infants and 115 deaths per 176,825 live births for non-Hispanic black infants.
“Despite increased public health efforts for education about safe sleep practices, we have seen significant surges in infant deaths from accidental strangulation and suffocation,” says lead author Joanna Drowos, associate dean for faculty affairs, and associate chair of the Department of Integrated Medical Science at FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine, in a statement. “By gaining a deeper understanding of the epidemiology, including both risk and protective factors, public health professionals can tailor messages and programs to reach a diverse group of mothers to help reduce deaths related to this preventable tragedy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in 2016, one in four sudden and unexpected infant deaths in the U.S. were blamed on accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.
“We must conduct the rigorous studies to curb these alarming increases in overall deaths and racial inequalities,” says co-author Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, a senior academic advisor in FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine. “Future areas of research might include examining family and cultural differences around sleep, local pediatrician practices, available social services, and policies to combat these alarming increases.”
The study is published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal.