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N.C. infant mortality rate up

More babies were born to North Carolina residents last year than ever before, but the infant mortality rate also increased.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More babies were born to North Carolina residents last year than ever before, but the infant mortality rate increased as well, state officials said Thursday.

The state reported 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007, a 5 percent increase over the 2006 rate of 8.1, which was the lowest rate in North Carolina history.

Racial disparities in infant mortality continued, with the minority rate is still more than double the white rate, officials said. The minority infant mortality rate was 13.9 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2007, while the white infant mortality rate was 6.3 percent. In 2006, the minority rate was 13.6 percent – an all-time low – while the white rate was 6 percent.

“Many women of childbearing age in North Carolina are entering pregnancy with risk factors that affect their health as well as the health of their baby,” State Health Director Leah Devlin said in a statement.

A quarter of women in that age group are obese, and a quarter use tobacco, Devlin said. Others are affected by high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health issues, or misuse of alcohol or drugs, she said.

“African American women in North Carolina are disproportionately affected by poor health, lack of health insurance and high rates of poverty,” she said.

“Unfortunately, one out of four of women of childbearing age in North Carolina does not have health insurance, making access to health care difficult at this important time in their lives,” Devlin said. “Without continued care, women who have chronic health problems may not be able to stay healthy. That’s not good for their babies, either, and can put their future pregnancies at risk."

Infant mortality rates have improved dramatically over the past 30 years in North Carolina, declining 48.8 percent since 1978. North Carolina still has one of the nation’s higher infant mortality rates – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the state 44th nationally, based on 2004-05 data.

In 2007, prematurity and low birth weight accounted for 18.6 percent of deaths of infants under 1 year old. Birth defects were the cause of 18.2 percent of the deaths, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome accounted for 8.9 percent. Other causes of death included respiratory problems and other medical conditions, diseases, infections and accidents. Homicide or assault were blamed for 1.1 percent of the deaths.

Of the 130,886 live births last year, 55.3 percent were white, 23.4 percent were black, 16.9 percent were Hispanic, 1.3 percent were Native American and 3.1 percent were among other races or ethnicities.

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