December 2004

Stress of Racism May Lead to Low Birthweight Babies

Researchers have long been puzzled about why African-American women are much more likely than whites to deliver premature and underweight babies.

Factors such as genetics, unequal prenatal care and poverty only partly explain why blacks are three times more likely to deliver very low birthweight babies (less than 3.3 pounds). For example, a substantial black-white gap persists even among mothers who have college degrees. Two studies published Monday in the American Journal of Public Health lend support to a new explanation: The psychological stress of experiencing racial discrimination is at least partly responsible for premature and low birthweight babies. Duke University researcher Sarah Mustillo and colleagues analyzed births in Chicago, Oakland, Minneapolis and Birmingham, Ala. Among black women, 50 percent of those with preterm deliveries and 61 percent with low birthweight babies had experienced discrimination in at least three situations. Among white women, the corresponding rates of racial discrimination were 5 percent and zero percent. In a second study, researchers asked 312 black women who delivered babies at Stroger and University of Chicago hospitals whether they had experienced discrimination looking for work, at work, at school, in public settings or while getting medical care. Those who had experienced discrimination in at least three settings were 2.6 times more likely to deliver very low birthweight babies.

A Town Hall Meeting: Black Women, Lupus & Chronic Illness

On October 28, 2004, CABWHP held an informative Town Hall Meeting entitled "Black Women, Lupus & Chronic Illness: Healing the Bodies & Souls of Black Women." The meeting took place in the Community Room at the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City and was co-sponsored by Senator Sheila Kuehl, Assemblymember Mervyn Dymally and the "Loop Us Together" Support Group.

Prior to this meeting, I had no idea what Lupus was. However, by the end of this meeting, all of that changed. Crystal Crawford of CABWHP began the meeting by sharing some startling statistics. According to the Alliance for Lupus Research, although 1 in 700 Caucasians are diagnosed with lupus, Blacks are three times as likely to be diagnosed. That's nearly 1 in 250 Blacks and 90% of all cases in Black people are in Black women. After listening to this, I was ready to hear more from the panel.

The panel of speakers was diverse. The panel included: Karen Lawrence of the Center for Lupus Care, who provided a comprehensive overview of Lupus; Dr. Mesha Ellis of Pepperdine University spoke about the impact of Lupus on mental and emotional health, Kiara Harris (H & H Ecoprises), provided insight from the perspective of a working woman living with lupus; and Rhea Durr (Representative from the office of Senator Sheila Khuel - 23rd Senate District) put a political spin on the discussion.

As the first speaker, Ms. Lawrence, who is also living with illness, gave a brief definition of lupus. Basically, Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect virtually any system in the body. One can think of it as a 'self-allergy' where the body attacks its own cells and tissues. Also, Lupus often mimics rheumatoid arthritis along with other diseases. Ms. Lawrence called Lupus the "look good, feel bad" disease. Therefore, often doctors don't take women's complaints seriously. She also stressed the fact that we must demand answers from our healthcare providers and advocate for ourselves so that providers run ALL of the tests needed to diagnose and treat Lupus.

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