Cases of police violence against blacks in the US appear to be able to negatively influence the health of infants in this racial group still in their wombs, says an epidemiological study that has just been published in the journal Science Advances.
Research by German sociologist Joscha Legewie of Harvard University revealed that there is a significant association between situations in which police killed unarmed blacks on the one hand and decreases in birth weight and total gestation time of black babies. in the American state of California. Both situations are linked to worse lifelong health conditions and a higher risk of developmental problems for these children.
The effect is considerable, according to Legewie's survey, when deaths occur during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy and occur near the places where babies and their families live (within 2 km).
On average, the earlier the pregnancy and the closer to the pregnant woman the incident occurs, the higher the negative association. Babies whose family lived 1 km from the death site, for example, were born with up to 80 g less weight and "lost" an average half a week of gestation compared to the others.
The data from the analysis range from 2007 to 2016, corresponding to about 200,000 births of black babies and 164 cases of unarmed black deaths, out of a total of nearly 4 million births in California during that period.
To analyze these cases, Legewie took as a starting point an increasingly consolidated field of study that has shown the importance of stress factors for health and development since pregnancy.
Stress hormones are known to negatively affect, for example, the immune system, which defends the body from infection – basically because it makes little sense for the body to expend energy preparing for a disease when it has to deal with much more immediate threats. as predators and opponents (the sources of stress). In the long run, this leaves the affected individual more vulnerable to various health problems.
The increase in stress hormones in pregnant women also tends to shorten gestation, leading to the birth of underweight babies. Such effects are usually greater in low-income populations, which suffer from discrimination and which are prime targets for police repression.
This is exactly the case with blacks in the US. Members of this population are almost three times as likely to be killed by police as compared to whites (in Brazil, about three quarters of police deaths are black). The probability of low birth weight (ie under 2.5 kg) among black Americans is double that of whites, and the same is true for mortality rates up to one year of age.
The Harvard researcher's hypothesis is that factors such as these are especially acute when there is proximity between black pregnant women and cases in which unarmed blacks – who therefore posed no major threat to police officers – are killed.
These situations would reinforce the perception of unfair treatment and discrimination in these communities, acting as a social stressor and affecting the development of babies during pregnancy. It is possible that even relatively subtle effects such as those found by the study eventually impact the health and school development of black children, reinforcing the inequality that is already present in American society.
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