WASHINGTON, March 14 (Xinhua) — A new study highlights a striking racial disparity in U.S. infant mortality: Black babies experienced the highest rate of sudden unexpected deaths in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as overall infant mortality dropped to a record low.

The rate of SIDS, short for sudden infant death syndrome, increased by 15 percent in a single year, from 33.3 deaths per 100,000 babies born in 2019 to 38.2 such deaths in 2020, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics.The study found that the sudden unexpected infant death rates that were already about two times higher for Black babies in 2017 grew to nearly three times higher in 2020.The finding “was absolutely a surprise to us,” NBC quoted as saying the study’s author, Sharyn Parks Brown, senior epidemiologist for the CDC’s Perinatal and Infant Health Team. The racial and ethnic breakdowns of such deaths had been consistent for decades, she said.The study’s authors, who call for further research into their findings, point out that the pandemic exacerbated overcrowded housing, food insecurity and other stressors, particularly among Black families — potentially leading to less safe sleeping practices, such as bed sharing.