Breastfeeding seminars

The combination of black racial groups masks health disparities in breastfeeding

A new study by Amira Roess of the Department of Global and Community Health highlights differences in breastfeeding initiation between African Americans and black immigrants enrolled in the WIC Supplemental Nutrition Program in Washington, DC.

Diseases such as sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, and obesity disproportionately affect African-American populations, and researchers have long pointed out that declining breastfeeding among African-Americans in was the reason. One of the goals of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is to address this disparity in breastfeeding rates. However, the way the data is currently reported hides important differences between black American subgroups and skews the data. To understand potential differences in breastfeeding initiation among this population, a group of researchers is comparing patterns of breastfeeding initiation between two black subgroups, African Americans and black immigrants, to find clues.

A new study by Amira Roess, a professor in the Department of Global and Community Health, has shown that breastfeeding rates are significantly lower among African Americans compared to black immigrants and other racial/ethnic groups.

“By looking more closely at African Americans and Black immigrants, we can see that the combination of the two may mask important health disparities, as Black immigrant populations tend to have higher breastfeeding rates. high,” Roess said. “Without detailed data on breastfeeding initiation by more nuanced race/ethnicity definitions, the potential for poorly targeted interventions and policies exists, and opportunities to improve breastfeeding may be missed.”

This research collected data from participants in the Washington, D.C. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from 2007-19. Centers for Disease Control’s Healthy People 2020 provided goals out of 10 years (ending in 2020) to improve the health of Americans, and one of the goals was to increase the number of infants breastfed. This goal was met nationally (81.9%), but not for all racial subgroups. People from the non-Hispanic black population had the lowest number of breastfeeding initiations (73.7%), which was well below the Healthy People 2020 goals. Roess’ study then dissected the non-Hispanic black population into subgroups and found that African Americans have a lower breastfeeding rate (39.9%) than black immigrants (69.6%). Overall, breastfeeding initiation for both groups increased over time in the study population, mirroring the national trend, but at lower rates.

Image of a woman breastfeeding a newborn baby

The paper entitled “Disparities in Breastfeeding Initiation Among African-American and Black Immigrant WIC Recipients in the District of Columbia, 2007-2019was published online in March 2022 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study defined African Americans as those who self-identify as African American, non-Hispanic, and speaking only English. Black immigrants were defined as those who self-identify as African American and speak a language other than English. Researchers have acknowledged that this definition may underestimate the black immigrant population, particularly because some may come from English-speaking countries.

The research team included Rebecca C. Robert of the Conway School of Nursing, Catholic University of America; Doris Kuehn, Emily Woody, Swathi Vinjamuri, and Paulette Thompson of the DC Department of Health, District of Columbia Women Infant Child State Agency; and Nwanneamaka Ume and Brianna Ericson of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University. Ume was supported by a grant from the Clara Schiffer Women’s Health Project.