Infant death rate down statewide but significant risks persist for babies of color

For Immediate Release
August 9, 2017

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

Despite general improvements overall, racial and geographic disparities exist in most maternal and infant health factors

LANSING—When it comes to the health of Michigan infants and their mothers, there are troubling trends by race and ethnicity in infant death rates and other indicators, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s latest Right Start policy report. While the state in general has seen fewer infant deaths and a decline in the share of births to women under the age of 20, there is a significant gap between the deaths of White babies and deaths of African-American and Hispanic infants. This is just one stark difference that validates the need for policy changes and a focus on equity in healthcare.

The report, 2017 Right Start: Infant death rates decline in Michigan, other trends raise concerns, examines nine maternal and infant health indicators statewide, by race and for a select number of cities and townships in Michigan. The 2017 report compares 2010 (2008-2010 three-year average) to 2015 (2013-2015 three-year average) and highlights infant mortality trends in the state. While overall improvement has been made to reduce the number of Michigan babies who die before their first birthdays, the infant death rate increased 15 percent for Hispanic babies and is approaching nearly double the infant death rate of Whites. And African-American babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthdays as White babies.

“It is certainly reassuring that we’re seeing fewer infant deaths statewide and other maternal and infant health factors are improving, but it’s important for us to view the data from all angles and examine these drastic racial disparities,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan project director with the Michigan League for Public Policy. “The risks facing African-American and Latino babies, especially the high infant death rates, should raise an alarm to policymakers and healthcare providers and draw attention to the need for more holistic policies to support healthy moms and babies.”

Another area in which the gap has widened by race is maternal smoking. The state trends show that the rate of prenatal smoking has remained the same for White women, but the rates for African-American and Latina women worsened over the trend period.

On the whole, Michigan has made gains in regards to the health of moms and babies. The share of births to women under the age of 20 decreased by almost 37 percent from 2010 to 2015 and the rate of second (or more) births to teens already mothers declined by about 6 percent. High school completion rates are rising and teen births are decreasing, which means fewer mothers are giving birth without a high school diploma or GED, an improvement of over 21 percent. Another improvement is that the rate of babies born too small improved by 1 percent, though over 9,500 births were still considered low birthweight.

However, areas of concern remain. Over 6,000 births statewide, or 5.3 percent, were to mothers who either did not receive prenatal care or started care late in their pregnancy. This represents nearly a 10 percent rate increase from 2010. Also worsening over the trend period was the rate of mothers smoking during pregnancy, which stands at over 18 percent, or close to 1 in 5 births. Especially concerning is the rising rate of babies born too early—nearly 14,000 preterm births in 2015, a rate increase of almost 20 percent from 2010.

“We need to examine a complete picture when considering maternal and infant health, and what happens to a mom and her baby in the delivery room is just one piece of that picture. If we’re really going to make a difference in the health of a mom and her baby, it’s necessary to make policy improvements that address dozens of factors, such as the mother’s neighborhood, her relationships, her education and her life experiences,” said Guevara Warren.

Targeting resources and efforts where the highest need exists is critical, which is why the League’s first policy recommendation in the report is for policymakers to reduce disparities by race and ethnicity. For example, attention must be placed on adequate prenatal care for women of color.

Protecting the Affordable Care Act is another key recommendation in the report; the program guarantees maternity health coverage, expanded Medicaid to around 650,000 Michigan residents with low incomes and has helped to provide essential healthcare services for women. The report also recommends expanding home visiting programs to support vulnerable women and infants. In 2016, nearly 35,000 families participated in state-funded home visiting programs, resulting in improved access to prenatal care, fewer preterm births, and increased well-child visits. The League also places emphasis on addressing the social determinants of health.

“Home visiting programs to support vulnerable women and infants have proven very effective and resulted in improved access to prenatal care, fewer preterm births, and increased well-child visits across the state,” said Amy Zaagman, executive director of the Michigan Council for Maternal & Child Health. “Not only should these programs receive more support from the state level, but federal lawmakers should work to ensure that successful programs like the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program are reauthorized to continue to support mothers and their babies.”

In addition to the full report, localized press releases and individual profiles of 20 communities can be found at http://www.mlpp.org/kids-count/michigan-2/2017-right-start, including information on local efforts to address maternal health. Information will also be available online at the Kids Count Data Center, http://datacenter.kidscount.org/. For more information on the League’s Kids Count work, go to www.mlpp.org/kids-count.

The state’s three-year 2016-2019 Infant Mortality Reduction Plan was developed to address infant deaths in Michigan and included broad stakeholder engagement and input. The Infant Mortality Advisory Council, which the Michigan League for Public Policy is a member of, was created to implement the goals of the Infant Mortality Reduction Plan and support the actions necessary for statewide involvement—work the report released today will help inform.

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The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, DTE Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund, Battle Creek Community Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute. More state and local data are available at the Kids Count Data Center, www.datacenter.kidscount.org.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.