- A new study that compared California birth records and police killings found that black women who live near spots where unarmed black people are killed by police may give birth to babies with lower birth weights.
- “There is something specific to police killings of unarmed blacks that are perceived as unjustified, that generates stress, which then translates to lower birth weights,” study author Joscha Legewie said.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
164 unarmed black people were killed by the police in California from 2005 to 2017.
A study is now providing some of the first evidence that their deaths may have had an effect on the unborn black babies that lived nearby.
After examining 3.9 million birth records across the state of California from 2007-2016 and comparing them to records for 1,891 police killings in California between 2005 and 2017, Harvard sociologist Joscha Legewie found that police killings of unarmed black people substantially decreased the birth weights of black infants whose mothers lived nearby, he told Insider, shortly before his new study was published in Science Advances Wednesday.
Specifically, women who lived less than 1 kilometre (.62 miles away) from the spot where an unarmed black person was shot tended to give birth to babies that were about 50 to 80 grams lighter than others (a little more than a tenth of a pound smaller).
The effect basically disappeared in the third trimester of pregnancy (when in-utero development is further along), and if black women lived any more than roughly two miles away from where an unarmed person was shot dead.
This adds another layer to the health disparities that already exist between white babies and black babies. Compared to white babies, black ones are more than twice as likely to die in infancy, and nearly 4 times as likely to die because of low birth weight-related complications, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
The Harvard study reported that “exposure to a single police killing of an unarmed black individual during pregnancy accounts for as much as a third of the black-white gap in birth weight.”
Low birth weights can have a serious impact on child development
Lower birth weights can have lasting effects on a child’s development. They’re linked to numerous long-term health problems, including infections, learning disabilities, lower test scores, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Legewie controlled for a lot of factors in his study, and tried to explain away the birth weight differences in many different ways. He compared the birth weights of infants born after a killing of an unarmed black person to their siblings, who were not born after any unarmed killings. He also compared their weights to the weights of babies born in neighbourhoods where there were more killings of armed black people, to make sure the difference wasn’t because of crime and violence more generally.
“Each of these comparisons is based on slightly different logic, slightly different assumptions, and they all kind of tell the same story,” he said. “There is something specific to police killings of unarmed blacks that are perceived as unjustified, that generates stress, which then translates to lower birth weights.”
The study adds another piece of evidence to the idea that “for black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions … that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death,” as The New York Times Magazine reported last year.
The same birth weight differences weren’t seen when Legewie looked at police killings of unarmed white people, or unarmed Hispanic individuals.
“There’s not such long history of tensions between the police and Hispanic or white communities, compared to a long history of tensions between the police and African-American communities,” Legewie said. “The most plausible explanation of this pattern is kind of an increased level of stress related to perceived discrimination, perceived injustice, related to fear about future encounters with the police for yourself, your family, your unborn child.”
- Read more:
- Permanent hair dye and straighteners may increase breast cancer risk by messing with our hormones
- A public health researcher is warning that ultra-processed foods like white bread and burgers could damage your heart
- Black Panther star Angela Bassett’s diet includes sweet potato brownies and bison
- An anti-meth PSA is going viral because it says ‘Meth. We’re on it.’ An expert says it’s a ‘colossal’ waste of money.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.