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Falling Infant Mortality Among Black Children Drives Overall Leon Co. Decline

Local agencies say pregnancy health is vital to reducing infant mortality
Susan Collins via Flickr

The Florida Department of Health released data Wednesday on infant mortality rates in Leon County.  A sharp decline in deaths among black children is the highlight, but officials say it’s difficult to draw conclusions from a single year. 

After jumping to a rate of 9.3 per thousand in 2012, this new information shows infant deaths dropped all way to 5.3 per thousand in 2013.  Sandy Glazer with the Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition says this shows their efforts are succeeding.

“Well it’s something that we’re very proud and pleased to see happening,” Glazer says, “because there are so many community agencies along with us who have been working very hard on this issue.”

Deaths among black infants declined significantly in 2013 – they have historically been more common than deaths among white children.  But at the same time, it was a sharp increase in deaths among black infants that drove rates up in 2012.  That’s why Leon County Health Department Social Services Program Director RoseAnn Scheck says it’s important to look at more than year-over-year statistics.

“Most of the time epidemiologists say that you need to look over a three-year to ten-year period with the infant mortality rates and don’t rely on just one year’s stats,” Scheck says.

And taking a long view, the rate for black infants is coming down.  The Florida Department of Health publishes data going back to 1994 on its Florida Chart website.  The current rate of infant mortality among black children is lower than any other year listed.  But some of the trends give pause as well.  Infant mortality among black children declined steadily between 2004 and 2009 but has swung wildly each year since.  Over the same time span, mortality rates for white children have changed very little.  Experts struggle to explain why rates have fluctuated in recent years, but Glazer says her coalition is working to identify the cause of the most recent decline.

“There is something that has made a big difference this year that we’re very proud of, and we’re hoping that we can isolate what it is so the trend continues downward,” Glazer says.

Whole Child Leon Executive Director Courtney Atkins says local agencies are doing great work together, but one year’s progress isn’t a trend.

“I think that we’ve got it now,” Atkins says, “We are working hard together and working well together.  I think we’ve broken down a lot of silos, we’ve got wonderful resources in FSU and FAMU, so I’m optimistic, but I don’t want to be overly optimistic about this drop because I think it’s important to look at more than one year.”

Over the next year, agencies say they will continue educating mothers and families about pregnancy health and parenting.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.