Focus: Baby deaths

There’s power in the simplicity of a comment by Indiana State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams:

“We are happy anytime we can say fewer babies have died.”

Who wouldn’t be? But as Adams knows, Indiana still doesn’t compare well in the area of infant mortality when ranked against other states. In short, that means Hoosier babies are more likely to die before their first birthdays than are babies in two-thirds of the other states in the U.S.

Indiana’s rate of infant mortality improved from 2011 to 2012; from 7.7 to 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to information announced at the second annual summit on infant mortality conducted in November. Both figures are worse than the national average of 6.1 deaths per 1,000.

Adams made his comment in reaction to the news, while stating that he thought the significant decrease “may be an anomaly.”

Someone viewing the glass half-full would note the state improved from fifth worst in the nation to 19th worst. And it is good news that the state health department has made this a priority under Gov. Mike Pence.

Still, others, like us, see a half-empty glass in which nearly 7 of every 1,000 babies don’t make it to 1 year old; that their chances in Indiana are not as good as in most states; and that one year of data doesn’t make a trend.

The overall health of Hoosiers contributes to higher risks to babies. Only eight states have a higher obesity rate than Indiana, where nearly one-third of adults (31.8 percent) are considered obese. Only five states have a higher smoking rate than Indiana, where one-quarter of adults smoke. Both obesity and smoking by the mother raise health risks, even death risks, for the baby.

Logically, education about losing weight and quitting smoking, especially for pregnant women and those close to them, is a critical element in lowering the infant mortality rate in Indiana. More awareness of the overall problem would help, too, as former Indiana State Health Commissioner William VanNess said clearly: “We need to bring this out from shadows, shine bright lights on it, and keep shining light on it until it gets better.”

A $1.3 million public relations campaign by the state should help.