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Leon County infant death rate shows sharp decline

Jennifer Portman, Tallahassee Democrat 11:25 a.m. EDT May 28, 2014

New data released May 28, 2014 by the Florida Department of Health shows a significant decrease in the number of infant deaths in Leon County last year, driven in large part by a dramatic reduction in the death of black babies.

Leon County’s overall infant mortality rate dropped from 9.3 per 1,000 live births in 2012 to 5.3 per 1,000 live births in 2013. The white infant death rate decreased slightly from 5.6 to 5.1, and the black rate plummeted from 15.7 to 4.8, far below the overall Florida black infant death rate of 10.6.


“We were definitely excited to see this,” said Kristy Goldwire, executive director of the Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition. “We have been continuing to educate women of childbearing age about adopting a healthy lifestyle throughout their pregnancies so they can have healthy babies.


Improving the county’s infant death rate — particularity eliminating the vexing disparity in birth outcomes between black and white babies — has been a community priority for the last six years. Those working on the problem were dealt a blow last summer when annual DOH numbers showed a spike in the number of babies who died in 2012. The increase of infant deaths in the county, from 18 in 2011, to 28 in 2012, came after the death rate had been declining for three of the last five years and had reached its lowest level since 1996. Of the 28 babies who died, 19 were black.


The nearly 60 percent increase in the 2012 county’s death rate was driven by a sharp rise in the number of tiny, preterm babies born that year. Goldwire said she has not yet received specific reports on the 2013 infant deaths from DOH, so does not know what factors may have driven the steep declines, but she is hopeful the positive numbers show education efforts are having an impact. Last year, eight of the babies that died were white and six were black.


Public health officials warn against reading too much into single-year rates, but a host of groups, including Healthy Start, Whole Child Leon, the Leon County Health Department, Brehon, The March of Dimes, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, Florida State's College of Medicine, physicians, nurses, health care professionals and others have been hard at work to educate moms and families and help ensure better birth outcomes.


“We would like to say that we have contributed to this,” Goldwire said, “and we are not alone.”