Objective: We examined a trend in infant mortality caused by congenital malformations in the United States, particularly for the racial disparity between whites and nonwhites.
Methods: We used US annual summary data on cause-specific infant mortality for 1970-97 and detailed birth and infant death linked data for 1985-87, 1989-91, and 1995-97.
Results: Congenital malformations became a more prominent cause of infant mortality in 1997 and accounted for 22.1% of all infant deaths compared with 15.1% in 1970. Congenital malformations of nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems accounted for more than 60% of all malformation deaths. Malformations incompatible with life (anencephaly, encephalocele, hypoplastic lungs, renal agenesis, and trisomies 13 and 18) were the cause of one-third of all malformation deaths. In 1970-71, infant mortality caused by congenital malformations in nonwhites was lower, 2.6 (confidence interval [CI] 2.5, 2.7) per 1000, compared with whites, 3.1 (CI 3.0, 3.1) per 1000. However, in 1996-97, the rate of congenital malformation-specific infant mortality was higher in nonwhites, 1.7 (CI 1.7, 1.8) per 1000, compared with whites, 1.6 (CI 1.5, 1.6) per 1000. This trend was most pronounced with central nervous system malformations. Although whites had an almost two-fold higher infant mortality rate from central nervous system malformations compared with nonwhites in 1970-71, this disparity was no longer present by 1996-97.
Conclusion: Congenital malformations have become a leading cause of infant mortality in the 1990s. Over the last several decades, this mortality declined more slowly in nonwhites than in whites.