Minneapolis study: stress from aggressive police increases risk of preterm birth

A new study from the University of Minnesota has found that the anxiety of living in Minneapolis neighborhoods with a larger police presence can put pregnant mothers at a greater risk of preterm birth.

The authors of the report, published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Open Network, said it was the first study to examine how exposure to such stressors may lead to an increased risk of preterm delivery – delivery before 37 weeks. of pregnancy, which can lead to serious health complications for babies. The researchers found that while blacks and whites in these neighborhoods have both suffered adverse effects, more “black people giving birth” tend to live in areas that have historically been over-policed.

This finding, according to the study’s authors, adds to a growing body of research showing the psychological and health costs of policing in some communities, particularly black Americans.

“Racism is a root cause of inequality in health, which means we need to apply anti-racism to institutions that affect the fundamentals of our lives and our communities,” said Rachel Hardeman, associate professor at the U, in a college press release. Hardeman is director of the SPH Center for Antiracism Research and Health Equity (CARHE) and a leading expert on racial disparities in reproductive health. “Our research focused on the people of Minneapolis and found that US-born black birth attendants and their babies were the hardest hit by excessive police surveillance, which is a form of structural racism.”

Based on medical and police records, Hardeman and his research colleagues found that the exception was for black mothers born in another country, who had only 10% more chance of preterm birth, compared to 100% and 90% for US-born mothers and white mothers, respectively. One possible explanation is what researchers have dubbed the “immigrant paradox”: the idea that black immigrants who did not grow up experiencing structural racism have better health outcomes than born blacks. in the USA.

“Racism is a fixable problem,” Hardeman said. “Community health must be a priority for public safety reform, and the voices and needs of Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color must be prioritized. “

The study’s authors stressed the need for longitudinal research on the topic, including in cities like New York, Chicago and Seattle with larger populations of black immigrants. They also mentioned the statistical limitations of their study, such as the difficulty in determining whether the study participants had contact with the police before or during the pregnancy or whether the participants lived at the same address for the duration of the pregnancy. the study. Another complicating factor was trying to disentangle police contact at the community level from “other forms of structural racism that cannot be assessed in this study,” the authors wrote.

Racism, according to the study’s authors, “manifests itself in many ways in our society.” For one thing, due to residential segregation, blacks have historically moved to neighborhoods disproportionately affected by poverty, violence and crime – which has historically led to aggressive and broken police, researchers say. At the same time, the study builds on previous research showing that blacks are already almost twice as likely to have a premature birth as whites.

“Contact with the police – especially street checks carried out by the police as a deterrent against crime in certain neighborhoods – is a signal to blacks that in the eyes of the law they are viewed as inherently criminal and dangerous. This negative socialization coupled with the aggressive behavior that officers exhibit during these stops increases stress, anxiety, and the detrimental physical health of people living in these communities, ”the researchers wrote. “Now more than ever, communities across the country are wondering how to ensure public safety in light of the racialized incidents of police brutality brought to their attention in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Jr, in Minneapolis, where this study found. occurred .”

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