Duke University Receives $7.7M Federal Grant To Study Infant Mortality, Prematurity Rates in Southern StatesEnvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson on Tuesday announced a $7.7 million grant to Duke University to establish a new research center and fund a five-year study that will seek to reverse the recent increase in premature and low birthweight infants in Southern states, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Infants born in the South are more likely to be premature and have low birthweights, and infant mortality rates vary "significantly" among whites and minorities, according to the News & Observer (Rawlins, Raleigh News & Observer, 5/16).
Last month, federal officials reported that rates for infant death continued to increase in the South at levels well above the national average. The main causes of infant death in low-income Southern states include Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, congenital defects, and deaths from accident and disease, especially among low-income, black, teenage mothers (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 4/23). According to Marie Lynn Miranda, an associate research professor and director of the new Duke research center, environmental exposure to mercury, lead and pesticides during pregnancy; social stress; the pregnant woman's health; and genetics play a role in infant mortality.
The infant mortality rate among minorities in North Carolina was 14.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 2005, more than double the rate for white infants, according to the News & Observer. Among black infants, 15% were born prematurely, compared with 11% of white infants and 8.5% of Hispanic infants, North Carolina vital statistics say.
Miranda said, "These inequalities are especially pronounced in the American South. .... It's not just a difference in income and socioeconomic status. There's more going on."
The grant -- which, according to the News & Observer, is the largest in EPA history to go to a children's research center -- will go toward community outreach efforts at local clinics and studying how environmental factors influence fetal development, such as air pollution and poor housing (Raleigh News & Observer, 5/16).
Johnson said, "Understanding the source of these problem births and trying to prevent them is critical to the overall health of the nation" (Rawlins, Raleigh News & Observer, 5/15). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.