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Indigenous babies in Quebec hospitalized at higher rates, study finds

First Nations and Inuit babies are hospitalized 100 per cent more often during their first year, compared with non-Indigenous infants in the province of Quebec, according to a new study published Monday in CMAJ.

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First Nations and Inuit babies are hospitalized 100 per cent more often during their first year, compared with non-Indigenous infants in the province of Quebec, according to a new study published Monday in CMAJ.

The report found that the poor health of their mothers – who have higher rates of chronic diseases such as pre-existing diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease – is the root cause, says Dr. Zhong-Cheng Luo, at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal.

"The excess risks of these diseases – including pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension and preeclampsia – may be related to infant immunizations and the quality of the living environment," Dr. Zhong-Cheng co-wrote in the report, along with Dr. Hua He, Xinhua Hospital, Shanghai, China.

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They concluded that a great number of the early-age First Nations/Inuit hospitalizations could be prevented by improving health-care accessibility and education, as well as overall living conditions in these communities. "The need to improve infant immunization programs, promote breastfeeding and no smoking in the child's living environment illustrated better living conditions in these communities would have a huge impact" on infant visits to medical centres, the report concludes.

Respiratory diseases and infections are the most common causes of hospitalization.

The study included 19,700 First Nations babies, 3,930 Inuit and 225,380 non-Indigenous infants born between 1996 and 2010 in Quebec. The researchers also found First Nations and Inuit mothers are much younger than their non-Indigenous counterparts, with 22 per cent of First Nations and 27 per cent of Inuit moms under age 20. (Compared with 3.3-per-cent non-Indigenous).

The research showed Indigenous mothers are also more likely to live alone and have lower education levels than non-Indigenous mothers.

"The findings identify substantial unmet needs of Indigenous infant disease prevention and medical care," the researchers wrote in the report, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "There is urgent need for interventions to reduce Indigenous versus non-Indigenous infant health inequalities."

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