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BACKGROUND: Unexplained deaths in infancy comprise 'sudden infant death syndrome' (SIDS) and deaths without ascertained cause. They are typically sleep-related, perhaps triggered by unsafe sleep environments. Preterm birth may increase risk, and varies with ethnicity. We aimed to compare ethnic-specific rates of unexplained infant death, explore sociodemographic explanations for ethnic variation, and examine the role of preterm birth. METHODS: We analysed routine data for 4.6 million live singleton births in England and Wales 2006-2012, including seven non-White ethnic groups ranging in size from 29 313 (Mixed Black-African-White) to 180 265 (Pakistani). We calculated rates, birth-year-adjusted ORs, and effects of further adjustments on the χ2 for ethnic variation. RESULTS: There were 1559 unexplained infant deaths. Crude rates per 1000 live singleton births were as follows: 0.1-0.2 for Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, White Non-British, Black African; 0.4 for White British; 0.6-0.7 for Mixed Black-African-White, Mixed Black-Caribbean-White, Black Caribbean. Birth-year-adjusted ORs relative to White British ranged from 0.38 (95% CI 0.24 to 0.60) for Indian babies to 1.73 (1.21 to 2.47) for Black Caribbean (χ2(10 df)=113.6, p<0.0005). Combined adjustment for parents' marital/registration status and mother's country of birth (UK/non-UK) attenuated the ethnic variation. Adjustments for gestational age at birth, maternal age and area deprivation made little difference. CONCLUSION: Substantial ethnic disparity in risk of unexplained infant death exists in England and Wales. Apparently not attributable to preterm birth or area deprivation, this may reflect cultural differences in infant care. Further research into infant-care practices in low-risk ethnic groups might enable more effective prevention of such deaths in the general population.

Original publication




Journal article


J Epidemiol Community Health

Publication Date





911 - 918


cohort studies, ethnicity, inequalities, infant mortality