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North Carolina’s Infant Mortality Rate Continues Downward Trend; Minority Rate Still Cause for Concern

Release Date: September 17, 2010
Contact: Julie Henry,  919-707-5053

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s overall infant mortality rate dropped again in 2009 to the lowest level in the state’s history, state officials announced today.  A total of 126,785 babies were born last year.  The state’s overall infant mortality rate was 7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.  This represents a decline of 3.7 percent from the 2008 rate.  Since 1988, when North Carolina ranked as one of the last in the nation for infant mortality, the state has improved its overall rate more than 35 percent.

After reaching its lowest level ever in 2008, the infant mortality rate among minorities rose in 2009 by 4.4 percent; minorities continue to experience rates more than two times (2.6) higher than whites.  Minority women also continue to experience markedly higher rates of low and very low birthweight babies (13.5%) than whites (7.7%). 

“Racial health disparities, especially among women of childbearing age, must continue to be one of our top priorities,” State Health Director Jeff Engel said.  “That means continued investment at the state and federal levels in preventing high-risk conditions like diabetes and hypertension as well as ensuring access to good preconceptional, prenatal and infant care.”

Programs like the N.C. Baby Love Plus Program, a federally-funded Healthy Start Initiative in 14 North Carolina counties, continue to address the racial disparities that affect infant mortality, targeting issues ranging from domestic violence to lack of prenatal care. UNC Pembroke’s Healthy Start Corps Program also receives federal funding to eliminate health disparities in pregnant women and newborns with a strong focus on American Indian families.

The N.C. Division of Public Health, in partnership with local health departments and community-based organizations, supports numerous initiatives to reach families of color with improved access to health services, care coordination and support, including the Healthy Beginnings program, which is currently serving 12 communities across the state. A 20-year public-private partnership with the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation has resulted in statewide and targeted outreach activities and educational materials that have been nationally recognized for being culturally and linguistically appropriate.

The 2009 Infant Mortality Report shows that deaths attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) decreased from 136 deaths in children under 1 year old in 2008 to 98 in 2009.  Deaths from accidental suffocation also decreased from 21 in 2008 to seven in 2009. 

 “While we can’t explain the unusually high number of SIDS-related deaths last year, it is good to see a return to the downward trend we had been on since 1995,” said Tom Vitaglione, co-chair of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force. “Our state is fortunate to have a dedicated Child Fatality Prevention System that reviews all child deaths and studies ways to prevent them through focused programs like the statewide N.C. Infant Safe Sleep Campaign.”

The report also shows that smoking rates continue to decline among pregnant women and the percentage of teenagers under 18 who gave birth was down from the previous year, accounting for just 3.5 percent of all live births.  The number of women receiving prenatal care early in their pregnancies rose slightly from 82 percent in 2008 to 83.3 percent in 2009.

The number of babies being born in North Carolina is down more than 3 percent overall, from a record high of 130,886 in 2007, to 126,785 births in 2009.

A complete copy of the 2009 report.