State Infant Mortality Rate Rises in 2011
Data released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services show the state's infant mortality rate, after reaching the lowest recorded rate in state history, rose 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 in North Carolina."
Recent declines in North Carolina's overall infant mortality rate conceal disturbing trends, according to Action for Children.
African-American babies remain more than twice 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, a news release from Action for Children said.
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 2011, the N.C. General Assembly cut funding to the maternity clinic that provides care to women experiencing high risk pregnancies in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. While this funding was eventually restored during the 2012 short legislative session, advocates say these new data underscore the importance of continued investments in interventions that support underserved communities.
"An increasingly sophisticated body of research shows that when it comes to health outcomes, place matters," Bell said. "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. We must also identify the complex root causes of health disparities and find ways to correct them."
More like this story