Geographic and racial imbalances in sudden unexpected infant death investigations
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Geographic and racial imbalances in sudden unexpected infant death investigations

Geographic and racial imbalances in sudden unexpected infant death investigations

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About 3,400 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly in the U.S. each year, but these tragic events are not evenly distributed across the population. Mortality rates are noticeably higher among Native American and Black infants than white infants, and rural areas have some of the highest rates of unexpected mortality in the country.

A new study conducted by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, published in Journal of Public Health Management and Practiceexamines the role of differences based on race, ethnicity, and geographic location in the completeness of sudden infant death investigations.

Researchers analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on 3,847 cases from 2015 to 2018. They looked at cases with incomplete death investigations — those that were missing key elements, such as an autopsy, a scene examination or detailed information about the circumstances of death.

The study also identified critical elements often omitted from investigations, such as reconstructions and the use of investigation forms and protocols specific to sudden unexpected infant deaths. These are considered essential to a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances surrounding each case.

The study showed:

  • In 24% of cases of sudden and unexplained infant deaths, incomplete investigations were found.
  • Native American and Alaska Native infants were more likely to have an incomplete death investigation compared with infants from other racial groups.
  • The likelihood that a death investigation would not be fully conducted was more than 1.5 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas.
  • Death investigations conducted by law enforcement were less likely to be complete compared to those conducted by medical examiners. American Indians and Alaska Natives were more likely than any other group to have a law enforcement investigation.

“Our work highlights the urgent need for standardized and comprehensive death investigations across all regions and demographic groups to ensure accurate data collection and effective prevention strategies,” said Naomi Thyden, SPH researcher and lead author.

“Involving medical examiners or coroners in all infant death investigations, rather than relying on law enforcement, could greatly improve the completeness of these investigations.”

More information:
Naomi Harada Thyden et al., Structural Biases in the Completeness of Death Surveys in Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), Journal of Public Health Management and Practice (2023). DOI: 10.1097/PHH.00000000000001849

Provided by University of Minnesota

Quote:Geographic and racial imbalances in sudden unexpected infant death investigations (2024, July 9) retrieved July 9, 2024, from

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