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Infant Mortality, Smoking and Obesity Rates Go Hand in Hand

Health commissioner: better minority outreach needed, but healthier habits overall would produce healthier pregnancies

(INDIANAPOLIS) - The best way to solve Indiana's high infant death rate is to keep women healthier before they get pregnant. That's the prescription of the state health commissioner.

Indiana has struggled for decades with a high infant mortality rate -- it's currently the ninth-worst in the nation. Kristina Box says the real problem is Indiana's other poor health rankings. Indiana has the 10th-highest smoking rate and 11th-highest obesity rate in the nation, both of which affect infant health. Box says if Indiana successfully addressed those problems, infant mortality would improve, even if the state never implemented a single program targeting infant mortality specifically.

Box says nearly half of all Indiana babies who die before their first birthday are preemies, and smoking plays a big role in premature births. Yet nearly one in seven Indiana women smoke while they're pregnant.

Box was an ob/gyn before becoming health commissioner last fall, and says not enough women receive proper prenatal care. She says some women don't make their first doctor visit till they're six or seven months pregnant. In particular, she says the state needs to do a better job of reaching out to minority communities about the importance of prenatal care. More than one in 100 African-American babies don't reach their first birthday -- that's double the rate among whites, even after a 20-percent improvement. Box says more than a quarter of Indiana's infant deaths are in just 30 zip codes. Six of those are in Marion County.

(Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)


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