Black children are more than twice as likely as white kids to die from surgery complications in the United States, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that black kids more often had risk factors that raised their odds of dying within 30 days of surgery. They were more likely, for example, to need blood transfusions or to be placed on ventilators to help them breathe.
But even when compared to white children with the same risk factors, black kids were relatively more likely to die.
It’s not clear why, the study authors said.
“We definitely need further investigation to find out why these risk factors are more prevalent, and more strongly associated with risk of death, among black children,” said lead researcher Oguz Akbilgic, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
The good news: The average risk of a child dying after surgery was still very low. Among white children, the study found, the risk was just under 0.003 percent, while black kids faced a 0.006 percent risk.
Still, Akbilgic said, that translated into a more than twofold higher risk for black children.
Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, of Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, agreed that “it’s troubling when we have studies saying that being a person of color is a risk factor.”
However, she explained, race is often a “proxy” for other factors, such as social conditions and access to health care.
It’s possible, according to Heard-Garris, that black children are more likely than white kids to have surgery at “low-volume” hospitals — those with less experience performing the procedure.