If black infants born in the United States had all of the health and medical benefits enjoyed by white infants, nearly 4,000 fewer of them would die each year, a report published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics says.

That would amount to a nearly 60 percent decrease in the number of black infants that die each year. Instead, black babies are nearly 2.5 times more likely than white babies to die during their first year of life.

Infant mortality in the U.S. has been on the decline, falling 15 percent in the last decade, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, wondered whether that improvement was shared equally by black and white infants.

Both black and white infants (defined as babies up to the age of 1 year) did see improvements over the 10-year span between 2005 and 2015. In fact, infant mortality – the number of infant deaths divided by the number of births – decreased more dramatically for blacks than whites.

But it didn’t fall nearly enough to erase the substantial gap at the start of the study period.

In 2005, 5.7 out of every 1,000 white infants died before their first birthday. A decade later, that figure had dropped 16 percent, to 4.8 deaths per 1,000 white infants.

Meanwhile, the 2005 infant mortality rate for blacks was 14.3 per 1,000 births. By 2012, that rate fell to 11.6 per 1,000 – a 19 percent decrease. The rate then remained essentially flat, hitting 11.7 per 1,000 in 2015.

“Interventions to further reduce the rate of preterm birth among black infants appear the most promising option for reducing black infant mortality and the absolute inequality between black and white infants,” the researchers wrote.

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