Local News

State infant mortality rate drops

Posted August 21, 2009 11:15 a.m. EDT

Baby Medical

— Infant mortality rates dropped in North Carolina in 2008, and the minority infant mortality rate was the lowest in the state’s history, state health officials announced Friday.

The state’s overall infant mortality rate last year was 8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, which was 3.5 percent lower than the 2007 rate of 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. A total of 130,758 babies were born in North Carolina last year.

In 2008, North Carolina’s minority infant mortality rate was 13.5 deaths per 1,000 live births, nearly a 3 percent drop from the 2007 rate of 13.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“It is good news that our infant mortality rates dropped in 2008, especially among minorities,” State Health Director Jeffrey Engel said in a statement. “Although racial disparities persist, the decrease in the minority death rate is a promising sign that we are moving in the right direction. We want all North Carolina babies to be born healthy and to stay healthy."

National figures aren't yet available for 2008, but North Carolina is ranked 44th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, based on 2005-06 data. The national infant mortality average for that time period was 6.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The 1,066 deaths of babies statewide under age 1 in 2008 were due to a variety of causes. Nearly 20 percent were due to prematurity and low birth weight, and 19 percent were attributed to birth defects. Unintentional injury deaths dropped, accounting for slightly more than 3 percent of the infant deaths in 2008.

Minority women continue to experience markedly higher rates of low birth-weight births than do white women – 13.5 percent compared with 7.3 percent. These higher rates are responsible for much of the gap between white and minority birth outcomes, health officials say.

“Community-based organizations and local health departments have been working diligently to reach families of color, to help them access health services, to provide them with care coordination and support and to give them positive, helpful health information,” Engel said.

In 2008, the number of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome cases increased, reversing a 13-year trend of declines.

“The number of SIDS deaths does fluctuate from year to year, but the State Child Fatality Prevention Team is examining the 2008 cases in an attempt to identify a possible reason for this increase, and we will work with other agencies and organizations to address the issue,” said Krista Ragan of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.

Many pregnant women in North Carolina also have risk factors that affect their health and the health of their babies, according to health officials. In 2007, more than half of women of childbearing age were either overweight or obese, and 47 percent didn’t get the physical activity they need. In addition, 24 percent smoked cigarettes, 10 percent had high blood pressure, 3 percent had diabetes and 25 percent lacked health insurance.