Infant Mortality In Black Community Down But Still High

Jul 18, 2014

Dr. O'Conner of the UMKC school of nursing and Dr. Cai of the Kansas City Health Department answer questions about infant mortality rates in Kansas City.
Credit Anne Biswell / Mother & Child Health Coalition

Although the fetal and infant mortality rate in the Kansas City metropolitan area's black community is about double that of the white population, it has dropped dramatically since 2008.

That was the news delivered on Friday at a community forum on infant deaths in Kansas City hosted by the Mother & Child Health Coalition. The forum, at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center, was attended by dozens of nurses, doctors and public health workers.

In 2008, the infant mortality rate in the black community was almost three times that of the white population. But between 2008 and 2012, it fell by 40 percent, according to the coalition. The group credits the drop to improvements in newborn care.

The coalition drew on data provided by the Kansas City Health Department. Below is a chart provided by the Health Department tracking infant mortality rates for the past 14 years.

Infant mortality rates for the black and white population in Kansas City over the past 14 years
Credit Dr. Jinwen Cai / Missouri Department Health and Senior Services and Kansas City Missouri Health Department.

"We have more infant and fetal deaths in certain areas, certain pockets of Kansas City," said Susan McLoughlin, the executive director of the coalition.

McLoughlin said the past five years had seen a decrease in infant mortality due to poor infant care. But she said the rate of mortality due to poor prenatal care and prematurity had not decreased appreciably, especially among blacks.

Poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, drug use and asthma are among the major risk factors, McLoughlin said. 

Rosemary Graves, the Kansas City Health Commissioner, said she was concerned by the geography of high infant mortality in Kansas City.

Using  "geo-coding," the department  identified the ZIP codes with the highest infant mortality rates. 

"Your ZIP code should not determine how long you live," she said. 

Graves also said that more education about breast feeding would result in better health outcomes for babies.

Data presented by the health department showed that black women, teenage mothers and uneducated mothers were the least likely to breastfeed.

The coalition holds its conference on Perinatal Periods of Risk every 10 years.

Stefani Fontana is an intern at KCUR.

Eds. note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the infant mortality rate among blacks in Kansas City had dropped 40 percent in the past five years; the period was actually 2008 to 2012.