Black Americans — especially infants — are dying at the highest rates in decades

In the last two decades, the Black American population had 1.63 million excess deaths relative to their white counterparts, according to research published May 16 in JAMA led by Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

Mortality rates for Black men had plateaued in 2011, but in 2020 deaths sharply climbed to levels not seen since 2000, researchers found. Similarly, for Black women there was little to no change between 2016 and 2019. Then, in 2020 death rates for Black women increased to levels not seen since 2005. 

Researchers found that deaths were "most prominent among infants" of both genders, which underscores the findings of other recent studies pointing to growing disparities in infant and maternal care. 

"An estimated 997,623 excess deaths occurred among Black males and 628,464 excess deaths among Black females relative to their White counterparts — accounting for a total of 1.63 million excess deaths," researchers wrote. "These excess deaths corresponded to a total of 47 million and 35 million excess years of potential life lost among Black males and Black females, respectively."

Results from the study were determined by the researchers through an analysis of U.S. death certificate information, census data and other publicly available records. 

Another study published the same day highlighted that premature deaths for Black Americans are a large contributing factor in the high cost of health inequities in the U.S. which cost the economy more than $481 billion annually.

"Race offers no intrinsic biological reason for those categorized as Black individuals to have worse outcomes than White individuals, indicating therefore that these disparities are driven by the burden of acquired risk factors, influence of social determinants of health, limitations in access to care, and structural barriers indicative of bias — i.e., structural racism," researchers wrote.

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