Addressing inequality at birth

January 13, 2017
Children playing in a field

In Minnesota and across the U.S., African-American women and infants are at least twice as likely as white women and infants to die around the time of childbirth. And for African-American women, prenatal care often does little to counteract the effects of racism on their day-to-day experiences with the health care system during pregnancy.

School of Public Health researchers Rachel Hardeman and Katy Kozhimannil are studying ways to reduce these inequities in birth outcomes.

“The profound impact of racism on health can be seen right from the start of life,” says Hardeman.

Earlier this fall, the U of M was selected as the head of a national center for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program—a new approach that asks researchers to expand their focus beyond medical policy to factor in the social determinants of health, such as education, transportation, income, and faith.

Hardeman and Kozhimannil’s study will document best practices for culturally centered prenatal care at Roots Community Birth Center, Minnesota’s first and only African-American-owned birth center.

They’ll explore the ways community-connected and culturally centered care can improve the conditions that have produced disparate outcomes for African-American infants for more than a century.

“This unique model of research and the focus on a culture of health is an exciting opportunity for us,” says Hardeman. “Research can’t be done effectively without community voices, and all too often those voices are not at the table.”