Objective: To examine racial differences in the secular trends in respiratory-related neonatal mortality among very low birth weight (VLBW) infants in the United States, temporally associated with surfactant availability.
Design: Comparison of time trends in African American and non-Hispanic white (NHW) VLBW infants of cause-specific neonatal mortality and neonatal and infant mortality for 2 consecutive 3-year periods.
Results: From 1985 to 1988 there was no racial difference in the rate of decline of each mortality outcome. From 1988 to 1991 rates of decline in neonatal mortality caused by respiratory distress syndrome and by all respiratory causes were significantly greater for NHWs compared with African Americans. However, the rate of decline in nonrespiratory neonatal mortality was similar for African Americans and NHWs. Compared with African American VLBW infants, NHWs had a greater rate of decline in both neonatal (31% vs 20%; P <.01) and infant mortality (32% vs 21%; P <.01) during this period.
Conclusions: Between 1988 and 1991, declines in neonatal mortality risks caused by respiratory distress syndrome and all respiratory causes were greater for NHW infants than for African American VLBW infants. The decline in nonrespiratory mortality risk showed no racial differences. These findings suggest possible racial disparities in timely access or racial differences in the efficacy of respiratory treatments for VLBW infants.