A new report out of Multnomah County, Ore., which includes Portland, has found that minority babies born in the county face higher risks of poor health than white babies do.
Experts have long known that children born to low-income women, many of whom are women of color, face bigger risks both in utero and during their first year of life. Low birth weight, premature birth, a parent smoking in the home, and multiple hours a day of watching TV, among other early-life complications chronicled in the report, can lead to developmental issues that affect learning later on.
Multnomah County’s Maternal and Child Health Data Book offers a detailed look at one county, using data that are often difficult or impossible to collect on a national scale. The findings suggest that racism, not just income levels, could be affecting the care expectant mothers receive and the health outcomes of their children.
“Along with racial and ethnic minorities, women and children with lower income and education levels were also more likely to experience early-life health disparities, but their babies were still markedly healthier at birth than babies born to African-American mothers,” summarized reporter Kelly House in her Oregonian story on the report.
Right now, children of color are not receiving the best possible early-childhood support, according to several measures. For example, hearing spoken language face to face with an adult has been found to be a key factor in early literacy development. The Multnomah report found that Latino and black children were more likely to watch TV and less likely to be read to than their white peers.
Compounding any cultural issues that may contribute to that difference, Hispanic and black children nationally continue to be more likely to live in poverty than white children, accordng to the latest census data.
Hispanic children have also been historically less likely to be enrolled in preschool, though that may be changing. And black children face a higher likelihood of suspension, even in preschool, than white children. While black children make up only 18 percent of the preschool population, they receive 48 percent of the suspensions, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights.
At the same time, those populations are growing at an ever-faster rate than the white population. The 2014-15 school year is the first in which fewer than half of public school students are non-Hispanic whites. That makes the necessity of improving health and wellness outcomes for women of color and their children all the more critical, experts say.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.