Racial Disparities in Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Front Pediatr. 2021 Feb 18:9:633088. doi: 10.3389/fped.2021.633088. eCollection 2021.


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious disease of the intestinal tract affecting 5-10% of pre-term infants with up to 50% mortality in those that require surgery. There is wide variation in the rates and outcomes of NEC by race and ethnicity, and the reasons for this disparity are poorly understood. In this article, we review the epidemiology and discuss possible explanations for racial and ethnic differences in NEC. Most of the current evidence investigating the role of race in NEC comes from North America and suggests that Hispanic ethnicity and non-Hispanic Black race are associated with higher risk of NEC compared to non-Hispanic White populations. Differences in pre-term births, breastfeeding rates, and various sociodemographic factors does not fully account for the observed disparities in NEC incidence and outcomes. While genetic studies are beginning to identify candidate genes that may increase or decrease risk for NEC among racial populations, current data remain limited by small sample sizes and lack of validation. Complex interactions between social and biological determinants likely underly the differences in NEC outcomes among racial groups. Larger datasets with detailed social, phenotypic, and genotypic information, coupled with advanced bioinformatics techniques are needed to comprehensively understand racial disparities in NEC.

Keywords: genetics; necrotizing enterocolitis; newborn; prematurity; race.

Publication types

  • Review