Advocates cite continued racial and geographic inequities in infant death as a cause for concern
Raleigh, NC —Data released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services yesterday show, after reaching the lowest recorded rate in state history, North Carolina’s infant mortality rate experienced an uptick in 2011, increasing from 7.0 to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.
The infant mortality rate is often used as a measure of the overall health of a population. Infant mortality reflects several factors ranging from maternal health, public health practices, and socioeconomic conditions, to the ability of infants and pregnant women to access appropriate health care.
“Historically, North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has been among the highest in the nation,” said Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at Action for Children North Carolina. “Lowering our state’s infant mortality rate should be seen as a critical part of our efforts to improve public health inNorth Carolina.”
Recent declines in North Carolina’s overall infant mortality rate conceal disturbing trends. African American babies remain more than two times as likely to die before reaching their first birthday than White babies—a pattern that has remained consistent throughout recent years. Although Hispanic babies typically experience better birth outcomes than their non-Hispanic peers, the Hispanic infant mortality rate increased 8 percent last year to 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. Advocates say these disparities require the state’s immediate attention.
In addition to lingering racial inequities, the data also show persistent geographic disparities in infant deaths. Babies born in eastern North Carolina are more likely to die before their first birthday than those born in other parts of the state. In 2010, the North Carolina General Assembly failed to renew funding to the maternity clinic that served high risk pregnancies in eastern North Carolina. While this funding was restored during the 2011 legislative session, advocates say the new data underscore the importance of continued investments in targeted interventions that reach underserved communities.
“An increasingly sophisticated body of research shows that when it comes to health outcomes, place matters,” said Bell. “The conditions in which our expectant mothers and children live—the economic security of their families, the quality of their neighborhoods and schools, and their access to nutritious foods—all impact the health of our children.”
“It is not enough to simply address the symptoms of poor health,” said Bell, “we must also identify the complex root causes of health disparities and find ways to correct them.”
Interventions that work to address the environmental, social and behavioral determinants of health can create significant gains for the state. Evidence-based supports like the Nurse Family Partnership and community-based outreach programs offer an integrated approach to wellness that helps expectant mothers address multiple areas of need in their lives.
Advocates call on members of the General Assembly to recommit to preserving important progress that has been made in efforts to reduce infant mortality. Cuts to tobacco prevention and cessation programs, coupled with the elimination of state funds to outreach programs like N.C. Healthy Start Foundation, place those gains at risk.
The following graph is provided for use by the media:
For a copy of the full infant mortality report, please visit: http://www.schs.state.nc.us/SCHS/deaths/ims/2011/
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laila A. Bell, Director of Research & Data
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