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Marion County reports record low Black infant mortality rate in 2019

Marion County's overall infant mortality rate has improved, according to the Marion County Public Health Department.
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Posted at 1:58 PM, Oct 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 13:58:42-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Marion County is reporting that not only did its infant mortality rate decreased overall in 2019, but the Black infant mortality rate is at its lowest annual figure ever.

According to the Marion County Public Health Department, the Black infant mortality rate in Marion County for 2019 dropped significantly to 10.9 deaths per 1000 live births. In 2018 the Black infant mortality rate was 14.0 per 1,000 live births.

In 2019, the overall infant mortality rate in Marion County lowered slightly to 8.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the Marion County Public Health Department. In 2018, that overall rate was 9.2 per 1,000 live births.

The infant mortality rate among Hispanics in Marion County for 2019 was 7.6 per 1000 live births, and the rate for whites was 7.5.

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Dr. Virginia A. Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department, said Marion County has made some "substantial gains" in the last couple of years.

Just two years ago, Indiana was ranked among the ten worst states in the United States for infant mortality. In1984, the Black infant mortality rate in Marion County was at 24.6 deaths per 1,000 live births — the highest rate among 22 major U.S. cities with populations over 500,000.

According to the health department, the "Indianapolis Healthy Start" program has been a key resource that addresses the local infant mortality rate. For the past 20 years, the program has provided education, referral, and support services to pregnant women and their families.

The top causes of infant mortality are low birth weight, premature birth, and congenital disabilities. According to the health department, contributors to these causes include maternal smoking, lack of adequate prenatal care, lack of folic acid, and alcohol use.

“Nationally, African Americans have the highest infant mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group,” Paul Babcock, interim president and CEO of the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, said. “In the U.S., the death rate for Black infants is twice that of infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers. Policymakers and health care providers must work together to provide assistance to pregnant mothers to eliminate disparities that exist.”

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The public health department says that breastfeeding benefits both the mother and the baby. Benefits include lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

For infants, breastfeeding lowers the risk of asthma, obesity, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), ear and respiratory problems, and type 2 diabetes.

Data for Marion County shows the following statistics for 2019:

  • Hispanic mothers initiate breastfeeding at the highest rate of 87%, compared to white mothers at 81% and Black mothers at 75%.
  • Maternal smoking was highest among white women at 13% compared to Black women at 8% and Hispanic women at 2%.
  • The percentage of mothers who began prenatal care in the first trimester is 75% for white women, 53% for Black women, and 44% for Hispanic women.