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Family health is key to preventing infant deaths

September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Tennessee Department of HealthNashville – As part of the observance of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, the Tennessee Department of Health is working to remind Tennesseans of the importance of preconception and prenatal care and is working toward ensuring that every child born in Tennessee reaches his or her first birthday.

“We must do everything we can to improve the health outcomes for this vulnerable population,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “The Department of Health and Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination are working to increase awareness about how important it is to create healthier families that have healthier babies.”

A happy healthy baby

“All women of childbearing age, whether planning to become a parent or not, should take steps now to improve their health. Simple changes such as improving physical fitness, making better nutritional choices and stopping tobacco use will contribute to better health,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “Good overall maternal health, combined with proper and early prenatal care, is vital to the growth and development of an infant.”

The theme of Infant Mortality Awareness Month 2009 is “Healthy Families = Healthy Babies.” The goal of this year’s observance is to remind adults to work on personal health before they even consider having a child.

“Too many of our children fail to reach their first birthday,” said Bob Duncan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination. “We are working with communities to help them build a foundation for programs that provide critical services, education and research. This is all part of the state’s effort to give babies in Tennessee the very best chance of reaching their first birthday.”

Infant mortality is defined as the death of a child before his or her first birthday. Statistics show the need for these efforts to improve birth outcomes in Tennessee. The state currently ranks 45th in the nation for infant mortality.


Race and Ethnicity increases Mortality Rates

There is also a marked disparity in infant mortality in Tennessee, with rates of death for black infants more than 2.5 times higher than for white infants. Infant mortality is widely regarded as an indicator of access to health care, quality of care and the overall health of a community.

  • In 2006, Tennessee’s infant mortality rate (8.7) exceeded the provisional national rate of 6.6 by 31.8 percent.
  • From 2005 to 2006, the rate decreased from 8.8 to 8.7 per 1,000 live births.
  • In 2006, the black infant death rate (16.8 per 1,000 live births) was 2.5 times the rate for white babies (6.6 per 1,000 live births).


What is being done

Phil Bredesen
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen

Governor Bredesen launched a statewide initiative in 2006 to combat Tennessee’s crisis of infant mortality. To date, more than $17 million have been allocated for work that spans programs in health education, home visiting and clinical care for mothers and babies. Both the Department of Health and the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, along with other health care providers and community leaders across Tennessee, have implemented innovative strategies employing the best and most well-researched programs from across the country to address this issue.

This initiative to reduce infant mortality in Tennessee is guided by a commitment to empower communities to:

  • Understand the problem by implementing fetal and infant mortality reviews, known as FIMR. This process allows communities to identify specific opportunities to intervene on the local level.
  • Provide women and families with education and information they need to care for themselves and their babies.
  • Improve clinical care for women and babies.

Ensure women have the support they need to make good choices about their own health, how and when to access health care, and the care of their babies.

New Report available

The Department of Health has just issued a new report on infant mortality in Tennessee. This report is based on a comprehensive review of ten year’s worth of data. The report includes key findings on the causes of infant deaths in Tennessee and risk factors for infant mortality. The Infant Mortality in Tennessee 1997-2006 report can be viewed online.

National Infant Mortality Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Healthy Start Association. For more information, including a toolkit to help you plan an event for the health observance, visit www.healthystartassoc.org.

Comparing Infant Mortality Rate and Income


Tennessee Counties Compared


Nations compared

infant mortality



  1. It bothers me that the rate of infant mortality is directly linked to racial and socioeconomic factors. This is exactly why we need comprehensive health reform in this country. Every Tennessean should have the same access to the highest quality of care. Because having access to medical care is a basic human right, not a privilege that only those with money should be entitled to enjoy.

    We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Health care is covered under life.

    Notice on the national comparison, we are 27th out of 28 nations. Only Cuba has a higher infant mortality rate than our “We have the best healthcare system in the world ” country, second to last among the industrialized nations of the world. All of whom don’t offer their citizens a health insurance plan, they all provide single payer government ran healthcare. The benefits are crystal clear.

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