Are Black Newborns More Likely to Develop Cerebral Palsy Due to Low Birth Weight?

BabyCerebral palsy is a diverse condition that impacts every demographic - it's seen among children of every race and in every socioeconomic group. That being said, research indicates that some populations suffer far greater rates of cerebral palsy than others. Black children, in particular, appear to be more prone to cerebral palsy than their white counterparts. A variety of factors could be to blame, including a greater prevalence of premature babies among minority populations, as well as an increased likelihood of low birth weight. Many researchers believe that these and other contributing factors may be attributed to socioeconomic status; black mothers are more likely to suffer poverty, which could limit access to maternal care, and ultimately, increase the potential for factors associated with cerebral palsy.

Unfortunately, while blacks are more likely to suffer cerebral palsy, they're also less likely to be appropriately diagnosed. This can prompt a variety of negative consequences regarding their care and wellbeing as they grow up. Read on to learn more about a groundbreaking cerebral palsy study - and its implications for reducing the incidence of this devastating condition.

What Researchers Discovered

A recent analysis of over 6.2 million California birth records dating between 1991 and 2001 revealed not only the birth rate for infants with cerebral palsy, but also the general conditions that lead to the disability in the first place. In this study, 8,397 infants were identified as having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and qualifying for assistance from the California Department of Health Services. This translates to a prevalence of 1.4 infants with cerebral palsy per 1,000 live births. Throughout the course of this study, the prominence of CP did not change dramatically based on birth year.

The study found that cerebral palsy diagnoses varied considerably based on race and ethnicity, with black infants by far the most likely to develop the condition. Conversely, Asian infants were 20 percent less likely than white infants to be diagnosed with CP. There was no significant difference in CP rates between Hispanic and white infants.

Interestingly, the study's analysis appeared, at first, to present a major contradiction. While black infants were 29 percent more likely overall to suffer cerebral palsy than white infants, black infants of low birth weight were actually less likely to be diagnosed with CP than white infants of a similar weight. Upon adjusting for birth weight, there was no discernable difference between cerebral palsy rates among black and white infants.

Regardless of ethnicity, the study revealed that women who did not receive prenatal care were far more likely to give birth to children with CP than those who received prenatal care throughout the course of their pregnancy. However, upon a close examination of the study's results, socioeconomic status alone did not seem to account for racial disparities in cerebral palsy incidence.

Supporting Research

Evidence of low birth weight among black infants abounds. While, as mentioned earlier, socioeconomic status definitely plays a role, other factors may also be at play. This thinking was explored in-depth in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. This groundbreaking study delved into African American subjects' exposure to racism and discrimination, which were believed to play a role in premature births and associated low birth weights. It's no secret that regular exposure to racism causes stress, but that stress might have a greater impact on pregnancy than previously suspected. Hence, the prevalence of premature births among black women of every socioeconomic status.

Further research indicates that, not only are black infants more likely to suffer low birth weight and, potentially, cerebral palsy, they tend to experience worse symptoms than their Caucasian counterparts. A study published in 2012 revealed a clear racial disparity in regards to severe cerebral palsy, although researchers cited the underdiagnosis of mild to moderate CP as a potential contributing factor.

Looking Forward: Is There a Solution?

The good news? While the link between low birth weight and cerebral palsy is of grave concern, it presents a significant area of growth potential: improve birth weight among African Americans, and the rate of cerebral palsy could diminish dramatically in just a few years. Ultimately, much of this comes down to improving access to prenatal care among diverse populations. Regardless of race, age, or socioeconomic status, quality prenatal care considerably improves health outcomes among infants. Improving socioeconomic status can certainly help in ensuring that all populations receive the prenatal care needed to protect their children, but it alone will not solve the problem.

The cerebral palsy diagnosis rate is slowly beginning to fall, but racial disparities persist. It is of vital importance that we address this problem and provide mothers from all backgrounds the prenatal care and fair treatment they deserve - only then can we see across-the-board reductions in cerebral palsy rates.