Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TOO YOUNG TO DIE; High Mortality Rate

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TOO YOUNG TO DIE; High Mortality Rate

Article excerpt

First of three parts

Jacksonville's most vulnerable citizens, its babies, are dying at a high rate. It's a problem that is not simply described or easily solved. And its severity is not widely appreciated.

"I don't know how you get a community to address a problem if it doesn't recognize it as a problem," said Carol Brady, executive director of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, an affiliate of the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council.

There are no easy answers, though there have been some successes in addressing the issue.

Infant mortality refers to the death of babies less than 1 year of age. Yet infant deaths have plunged in the United States since 1940. Shown on a graph, the trend line looks like a ski slope. For instance, from 1960 to 2000, the national rate of infant deaths per 1,000 live births dropped from 26 to 6.9.

"Infant mortality is one of the key indicators of a nation's health," reported the National Vital Statistics. Other indicators are various measures of life expectancy and childhood immunization rates. But infant mortality trumps them all as a health indicator because it is influenced by so many factors.

CAUSES ARE COMPLEX

Since 2000, the decline in infant mortality has leveled off. And in the state of Florida, the infant mortality rate increased between 2000 and 2002. What happened? Jeff Goldhagen, a physician and director of the Duval County Health Department, suggests three possible causes:

1. Welfare reform. Whether one approves or disapproves is not the issue. The additional stresses on pregnant women, including depression, have an impact on a population already at risk.

2. A rise in the uninsured. Wellness visits often are not covered by health insurance plans available to low-income people. Many at-risk women do not have access to routine health care. As a result, they are not healthy when they become pregnant.

3. An increase in income disparities, which produce chronic stress.

Premature birth and low birth weight are major causes of infant mortality. Low birth weight babies accounted for only 7.8 percent of all United States births in 2002, but 67 percent of infant deaths, reported the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The risk of dying during the first year of life for low birth weight babies is nearly 25 times that for babies of normal birth weight. And for those that do survive, they are more likely to suffer from other problems later in life.

"Despite the enormous wealth in the United States, our child poverty rate is among the highest in the developed world," the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported. "The failure to adequately invest in our children will put us at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy of the 21st century."

LOCAL PICTURE IS TROUBLING

Jacksonville's infant mortality rate of 10.5 deaths per 1,000 is significantly higher than the state average and also higher than other Florida metropolitan areas (2003 data, the most recent). …

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