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Health

North Carolina infant mortality rates drop to record lows
Disparities remain between ethnic groups
 
Published Tuesday, October 22, 2019 11:50 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

African American infant mortality in North Carolina dropped to a record low 12.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, but is still more than twice the rate for whites.

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Infant mortality in North Carolina is at an all-time low, but racial disparities remain.


Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday noted that infant death rates in 2018 were the lowest in the 31 years they’ve been tracked, with a drop for a third straight year to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2017, the rate was 7.1 per 1,000 births, which was 4.2%.


According to the 2018 North Carolina Infant Mortality Report, 806 infant deaths were recorded in 2018 compared to 852 in 2017. Both the percent decline and the total numbers reported in 2018 are all-time lows.


“These numbers are encouraging but there is more work to do," Cooper said in a statement. "Reducing infant mortality remains the first goal in our North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan.”


The Early Childhood Action Plan set a goal for reducing the statewide infant mortality disparity ratio from 2.5 to 1.92. The N.C. Perinatal Health Strategic Plan also focuses on infant mortality and maternal health, particularly the importance of addressing equity, as healthier women tend to have healthier birth outcomes.


Gaps in mortality rates remain, particularly among African Americans, who had an all-time low of 12.2  deaths per 1,000 births last year, a 9% drop since 2016, but still more than twice the rate among whites, which was 5.0 during the same span.


“Infant health is an indicator of societal health and reducing it requires a continued comprehensive effort,” said Mandy Cohen M.D., secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “It should come as no surprise that a baby’s health is impacted by a mother’s health, reinforcing why North Carolina needs to expand access to affordable health insurance.”


Research published in 2018 in the American Journal of Public Health found that states that expanded Medicaid saw a greater rate of decline in infant mortality, with greater rates of decline among black infants.


Historically, North Carolina has been among the states with the highest rates of infant mortality. In 1988, the rate was 12.6 deaths per 1,000 births, with 9.6 for whites per 1,000 live births and 19.8 per 1,000 for African Americans.


The leading causes of infant mortality are preterm birth and low birth weight, birth defects, Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, maternal complications of pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and other perinatal conditions. Social, behavioral and health risk factors including access to health care before and during pregnancy, education, tobacco use and obesity, impact mortality rates.


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