Florida Study Outlines Causes of High Infant Mortality Rate; Racism, Inequalities in Health Care Among Factors
Racism and inequalities in education, housing and health are among the contributing factors to Jacksonville, Fla.'s high infant mortality rate, particularly in the black community, according to a recent study, the Florida Times-Union reports. Such factors contributed to 130 infant deaths in 2006, according to Joy Burgess, a pediatric nurse at the University of Florida Department of Pediatrics and a member of the Jacksonville Community Council, which conducted the study. In 2006, black infants were twice as likely as white infants to die, according to the Times-Union.
The overall health and prenatal care of the pregnant woman contributed in large part to the disparities, accounting for 70% of black infant deaths and 58% of white infant deaths, according to the study. Low birthweight accounted for about 80% of the racial disparities, the study found. In addition, diseases such as diabetes and hypertension -- which can affect blacks more than whites -- can contribute to pregnancy complications. Further, obesity and untreated health and dental conditions also can affect pregnancy outcomes. Chronic stress, induced by both real and perceived racism, can cause hormonal changes that can affect a woman's pregnancy.
Another contributor to the racial disparity in infant mortality in Jacksonville is that while overall health care improved in Florida in recent years, access did not, according to the Times-Union. Many residents are also uninsured. Burgess said, "The failure of Jacksonville to address the underlying causes ... is killing our babies."
Local health experts say that two federally funded programs -- the Magnolia Project, which seeks to improve the prenatal care of women living in specific zip codes, and a similar program, called the Azelea Project -- are models to address the disparity, the Times-Union reports. Meloni McNealy, a case manager at Magnolia, said her clients have limited access to healthy food and medical care. She also said a large part of her role is helping clients with other issues, such as domestic violence, sexually transmitted infections, birth spacing, employment and housing, that can affect their pregnancy. Community leaders said that increased awareness of the problem is also needed (Conner, Florida Times-Union, 5/30).
The study is available online (.pdf).
"JCCI must be commended for taking up an issue that has not had many champions among elected leaders until recently," a Times-Union editorial states, adding, "It is complicated, not prone to easy answers." The editorial continues, "For too long, this community did not pay sufficient attention to the county's high rates of murder, suicide and infant mortality," but the JCCI report "clearly describes" the root causes of the problems, including "racism, poverty, poor housing, crime, education, access to medical care, drug abuse and joblessness," the editorial states.
The group has suggested the infant mortality rate could be reduced by expanding access to care; encouraging healthier food options at local grocery stores; developing a program to encourage men's support of their children; and more comprehensive sex education, with an emphasis on abstinence, the editorial states. The Times-Union adds, "Elected officials need to become more engaged in addressing the root causes of infant mortality" (Florida Times-Union, 5/30).