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September 2005

Welcome to the inaugural edition of "incite," the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation's monthly feature focusing on the health and well-being of women and young children in North Carolina. Our goal is to provide you - members of the health community, government agencies, community groups and individuals - with information to take into your personal and professional lives. We urge you to incorporate featured material in newsletters, presentations, online resources, discussion groups, etc.

This month we present a broad overview of infant mortality in our state, setting the stage for what we hope is a year full of insight and discovery in an attempt to positively impact the lives of North Carolinians.

State of the State: Infant Mortality in North Carolina

In August 2005, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the latest infant mortality statistics and the news wasn't good. Infant mortality rates have increased for the first time since 1998, with significant change among the state's minority populations, notably African Americans whose rate escalated 10% the past year.

While national rates began to go up a year ago, North Carolina's increase comes at a time when the state's infant mortality rates were at an all-time low of 8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in each of 2002 and 2003. State infant mortality rates experienced an overall decrease of 35% between 1988 and 2003.

Today, more than 1,000 North Carolina babies die each year, one every nine hours.

So what's happening? State health officials theorize that a decrease in fetal deaths (less than 20 weeks gestation) may be partially attributable to the rate increase. Many "fragile" babies that may have previously died before birth are now being delivered alive, but are unable to survive their first year of life.

Health officials have also begun to draw a strong correlation between the overall health of women in North Carolina (mothers) and the impact on a baby's survival. While prenatal care was once believed to be the single most important factor leading to positive birth outcomes, recent findings suggest a more substantial healthy lifestyle is critical. Long-term affects of smoking, poor nutrition, untreated chronic health conditions, infections, obesity, drug abuse and other unhealthy behaviors cannot be reversed by prenatal care, and therefore the negative affects of these practices play significant roles in the health of a baby.

Recent findings, such as the North Carolina Women's Health Report Card, suggest that the health of our state's female population is far from ideal. Currently, North Carolina has high rates of obesity, inactivity, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases and ranks near the bottom nationally with regard to public health spending.

Many health organizations, including the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation have begun addressing this trend by placing more emphasis on overall women's health, particularly for women of childbearing age. Health educators note that behavior modification and willingness to adapt one's lifestyle will be central to advancing the infant mortality reduction cause.


What are the leading causes of infant mortality?
Prematurity (before 37 weeks gestation), low birthweight (less than 5.5 lbs), birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are the leading causes of infant death.

What is infant morbidity?
Infant morbidity is the rate of sickness among the infant population. Oftentimes, babies born low birthweight, premature and/or with certain birth defects do manage to survive, but with subsequent physical, emotional and learning disabilities.

What's next?
Women's overall health is the "next frontier" in this continued battle. Aggressively educating the public of best practices and behaviors will not only ensure a healthier female population, but is an essential next step in helping secure a brighter tomorrow for future generations of North Carolina children.

Click here for more information regarding infant mortality in North Carolina

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Last updated: September 2005


At a glance
Infant Mortality Rate*

8.8 deaths per 1,000 live births

Caucasian Rate*
6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births

African American Rate*
16.1 deaths per 1,000 live births

Hispanic Rate*
6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births

National Rank**

*2004 figures
**2003 figures

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