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Health
Study finds high infant mortality rate among Natives


Native infants in British Columbia are more than three times as likely to die after birth than non-Native infants, according to data released on Tuesday.

Statistics Canada, the equivalent to the U.S. Census Bureau, discovered a high risk facing Native newborns in the province with the second-largest number of First Nation residents. From 1981 to 2000, Native infants were 3.6 more times likely to die after birth than their non-Native counterparts.

This disparity was even greater than the one found in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infant mortality rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives is 1.7 times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites.

The data also showed that the Native infant mortality rate was as high in urban areas as it was for rural reserves. Economic status didn't appear to play a role either, Statistics Canada reported, with risks of infant death similar in both low- and high-income Native families.

Despite the high rate, the data did show an improvement in health. Over the two-decade period, infant mortality rates declined 64 percent for First Nations people living in rural areas and declined 47 percent for those in urban areas.

But the agency said most post-natal deaths are entirely preventable. For example, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the leading killer of Native newborns in the U.S., was also high among B.C. Natives. Infections were also a leading cause of death, similar to Natives in the U.S.

Native mothers in B.C. were also more likely to give birth prematurely. This played a large role in post-natal deaths, the study said, more so than birthweight.

British Columbia is home to more than 170,000 Natives, the second-largest in Canada. This accounted for 4.4 percent of the province's population.

Like many Native groups, the Native population in the province is younger than the non-Native population. According to Statistics Canada, the median age is 26.8 years, compared to 38.7 years for non-Natives in B.C.

Young Natives in B.C. also make up a slightly larger percentage of the population when compared to young non-Natives. As of 2001, 7.3 percent of Natives in the province were ages 0-14, compared to 5.6 percent for Canada as a whole.

Results of the Statistics Canada study were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The agency collaborated with McGill University, the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency to compile the 20-year data.

Overall, Canada's Native population is on the rise. From 1901 to 2001, the Indian, Inuit and Metis population grew by a factor of ten while non-Native population grew only by a factor of six.

In the 2001 census, about 1.3 million people claimed Native ancestry, representing about 4.4 percent of the total population. In 1996, people with Native ancestry were 3.8 percent of the total population.

Get the Data:
Study: Infant mortality among First Nations and non-First Nations people in British Columbia (November 2004)

Related Information:
Aboriginal peoples of Canada (2001 Census)