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Minority Children are More Likely to Die From COVID-19, New Data Shows

little black boy sitting on a hospital bed

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Key Takeaways

  • Most of the kids under 18 who have died from COVID-19 have been Black, Hispanic, or Native American.
  • This grim statistic highlights racial disparities in the U.S. healthcare system.
  • 33% of juvenile COVID deaths occurred outside of a hospital setting, likely due to an inability to afford proper health care.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that BIPOC children represent the majority of COVID deaths in the United States within that demographic.

Though COVID-19 is typically less severe for kids under the age of 21 than it is for younger adults and older age groups, the recent CDC data suggests that among the children who have died of COVID, 78% were Black, Hispanic, or Native American. These findings reflect the broader disparities experienced by racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. healthcare system.

“While Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native youth under 21 years of age make up only 41% of the U.S. population, they comprised over 75% of all pediatric COVID-19 deaths,” says Elisa Song MD, a holistic pediatrician and pediatric functional medicine expert, and founder of Whole Family Wellness in Belmont, Calif.

Study Findings

Of the 121 juvenile COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. through the end of July, roughly 45% were Hispanic, 29% were Black, and 4% were Native American. These figures are staggering, particularly when considered as a total, and signify a cause for concern.

“The racial disparities that the pandemic has brought to light on so many fronts for our children are unacceptable and tragic, and unfortunately, potentially deadly,” says Song.

Elisa Song, MD

While Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native youth under 21 years of age make up only 41% of the US population, they comprised over 75% of all pediatric COVID-19 deaths.

— Elisa Song, MD

A Multi-Faceted Issue

According to the CDC report, “disparities in social determinants of health, such as crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination, likely contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 and MIS-C incidence and outcomes.” Below, we highlight a few of these issues. 

Poor Access to Health Care

Not everyone enjoys regular, affordable access to medical care in the U.S., and poor access to health care is one of the biggest issues faced by minority groups. This can lead to life-long problems like shorter life spans, higher rates of diabetes, and other chronic health issues, as well as lower rates of beneficial childhood vaccinations.

This is evident against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis as well, where more than one-third of BIPOC deaths under the age of 21 occurred outside of a hospital setting, according to the report. “It’s possible that this was due to lack of access to health care, health insurance, and avoidance of going to the hospital during the pandemic,” says Jennifer Haythe, MD, co-director of the Women's Heart Center and director of the Cardiac-Obstetric program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Another factor that played heavily into the disproportionate number of minorities represented among all juvenile fatalities from COVID is the fact that more than 75% of them had an underlying medical condition. The most common were asthma and obesity.

Jennifer Haythe, MD

Children living in poverty and in low socioeconomic conditions are disproportionately affected by obesity, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, all of which may contribute to more severe outcomes of COVID-19 illness.

— Jennifer Haythe, MD

For years, Black and Hispanic children have suffered from higher rates of obesity than their White counterparts. And the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes the devastating effects. “Being overweight can create dramatic health consequences for young people, such as increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, as well as a myriad of other problems such as stress, sadness, and low self-esteem,” states the NIH.

This creates a dangerous situation when it comes to the COVID pandemic. Haythe says, “Children living in poverty and in low socioeconomic conditions are disproportionately affected by obesity, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, all of which may contribute to more severe outcomes of COVID-19 illness.”

What This Means for You

Addressing the issues surrounding systemic racism in U.S. healthcare is a first step at stemming the tide of higher fatalities related to the pandemic. “Providing better access to affordable or free health care, clean and stable living conditions, and education about healthy food choices and diet and exercise are crucial to ensuring the health and wellness of racial minorities,” says Haythe. 

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