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Youth Institute: Local Efforts Combat Infant Mortality

The Indiana Youth Institute says many factors contributing to high infant mortality are preventable, including smoking and obesity.

Pregnant woman smoking.

Photo: Flickr (zippaparazza!)

Smoking while pregnant is the leading cause of infant mortality in the state of Indiana.

A youth advocacy group is trying to draw attention to Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which is 25 percent higher than the national average.

About 7.6 babies out of 1,000 die before their first birthday, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s Infant Mortality Fact Sheet.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is the President and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.  He says infant mortality in Indiana has been a consistent problem for 20 years, despite state and community efforts.

He says human behavior is complex and while change won’t happen overnight, the best initiatives occur at the grassroots level.

“Kids don’t live at the Statehouse – kids and families live in local communities,” he says. “The best initiatives are those that walk alongside organizations that people know and trust so that people get the information that they need and get the support that they need to enjoy health in their families.”

The Indiana State Department of Health is working in that direction. It recently announced a new approach to localize data and tailor programs to specific communities.

“What they’re doing is taking the data related to infant mortality and the causal factors related to infant mortality, boiling those down into local data, and providing that information to local organizations where mom lives,” Stanczykiewicz says.

Studies show the main factor in infant mortality in Indiana is smoking while pregnant.  Seventeen percent of expectant mothers admit to the habit. That number increases to 25 percent among pregnant women ages 18 to 24.

Children in single parent families are also twice as likely to die as children from multiple parent homes. Other infant mortality factors include lack of prenatal care and lack of breastfeeding.

“And the challenge of it all is so many of these seem fixable, that these are behavioral issues that can be worked on and corrected, and this new state initiative is designed at providing local community organization with the information they need so that they can design tailor-made strategies for their local communities,” Stanczykiewicz says.

Taylor Killough

Taylor Killough is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has studied anthropology and digital journalism. She has professional experience in education and communications and is excited to be a part of the award-winning team at WFIU/WTIU.

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