(Tribune News Service) -- Healthy African American children are 3.5 times more likely to die after surgery and are more likely to have postoperative complications than their white counterparts, according to a new study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Researchers are looking at what they can do to fix that.

Dr. Olubukola Nafiu said the concept of African Americans having surgical outcomes worse than white people is not new. The discrepancy has commonly been tied to the assumption of preexisting conditions within Black patients. Nafiu and his team set out to challenge that assumption through the use of relatively healthy patients.

“The way we crafted the hypothesis was that complication rates and mortality rates will be low, and there will be no racial disparity between the groups,” he said.

Nafiu and his team analyzed data from the National Surgical Quality Improvement Pediatric Database from 2012 through 2017. The researchers identified children up to age 17 who had surgery and were deemed to be relatively healthy.

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Based on their study and analysis of more than 170,000 healthy children, about 14% of them had postoperative complications. African American children had a 27% higher likelihood of developing a complication, an 8% higher chance of developing severe adverse events after surgery and were 3.5 times more likely to die within 30 days after surgery compared to their white counterparts.

Dawn Tyler Lee, interim director of CelebrateOne, an organization aimed at reducing infant mortality, said that although the findings are troubling, they are relatively consistent with what CelebrateOne is seeing among children in their first year of life.

“We see at CelebrateOne that African American babies are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white babies. And in Columbus in particular, we have eight neighborhoods, which we call our opportunity neighborhoods, where the infant mortality rates are three times higher than that of the entire county,” Tyler Lee said.

Nafiu said he doesn’t think that race is the only cause of the discrepancy, but believes it plays a role.

He said researchers found a strong association between race and mortality, but they can’t say that race is the cause of the higher rate of death. But even when changing variables such as sex, age and the timing of the procedure, the results were not significantly different.

Tyler Lee said she hopes that people will learn more about the racial disparities.

“People certainly have the opportunity to educate themselves on what some of these disparities are that exist. And just acknowledging that all of the families in our community don’t have the same opportunities that maybe other families do, and a lot of it really could be contingent on the ZIP code that you live in,” she said.

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