Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

INFANT MORTALITY; Preterm Dangers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

INFANT MORTALITY; Preterm Dangers

Article excerpt

Infant mortality is considered a chief marker of a community's overall health because it is connected to so many things.

One example: Most infants survive the birthing experience. But for those born at a low birthweight or pre-term, many will carry complications through the rest of their lives.

About 1,400 babies are born prematurely in the United States each year. And 11 percent of newborns covered by employer health plans are born prematurely.

The rate of premature birth has increased almost 30 percent from 1981 to 2004, reported The March of Dimes Web site.

A premature baby may be more likely to have cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning disabilities, chronic lung disease and vision and hearing problems.

The costs to employees and businesses of babies born prematurely is considerable.

In 2002, there were about $7.4 billion in hospital charges for premature newborns, about half billed to employers and private insurers, the March of Dimes reported.

As a study group of Jacksonville Community Council Inc. is exploring the many causes and effects of infant mortality, premature births must be addressed.

For every child that dies within the first year of birth, another four to five will survive but be faced with complications, said William Sappenfield, a physician and epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health.

Thus, the risk factors involved in infant mortality are factors that will affect the quality of life of many more people.

Sappenfield is trying to untangle the mysteries of infant mortality so that the community can focus on ways of preventing it.

One of the strongest risk factors of infant mortality is birthweight. The percentage of low birthweight babies and preterm births has been increasing in Florida in recent years, Sappenfield said. And Duval County has higher infant mortality rates than the state and nation.

Other risk factors are increasing, as well. …

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