Politics & Government

Babies are more likely to die in North Carolina than nationally, report finds

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate is higher than the national average and a greater percentage of its babies are born too small.

A national report released Tuesday on children from infancy to three years old shows that North Carolina lags in some crucial areas and does better than the nation as a whole at some others.

“Low birth-weight babies, babies living in low-income households, babies living in poverty, those are the kinds of things that adversely affect a young person’s health,” Michele Rivest, policy director for the NC Early Education Coalition, said in an interview.

The policy organization Zero to Three, and Child Trends, a research group, published the report compiled from national data. It looked at 60 measures of health, economic security, safety, and education.

“What we are excited about is that this sort of points a road map for the future, for the best areas to invest across the board,” Rivest said.

Infants and toddlers in low-income families are insured at a higher percentage in North Carolina than similar families nationally, and a higher percentage of the state’s children receive recommended vaccines, according to the report.

Infant mortality rateLow birth weightUninsured low-income infants and toddlersReceived vaccines
NC7.2/1,000 live births9.2 percent 4.4 percent 77.8 percent
US5.9/1,000 live births8.2 percent5.8 percent70.7 percent

The report noted that infant mortality is higher nationally for African-American babies than for white children, but did not give state-by-state details on the disparity.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the infant mortality rate for African-American children in North Carolina is 12.5 deaths for 1,000 births, while for white children the rate is 5 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2017.

Last summer, Gov. Roy Cooper called for a plan to improve childhood health and opportunities for early learning, The News & Observer reported.

Rivest said a key to improving infant health would be to make sure pregnant women and young families are getting support they need.

“We need to make it the norm in our society,” she said.

Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.