The Biggest Public Health Success Story In 15 Years?

Infant Mortality Rate Reaches "Historically Record Low" but Receives Little Fanfare

Earlier this summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data showing that the U.S. infant mortality rate reached a record-low level of 6.14 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010. Other key findings from "Death in the United States, 2010" show that the infant mortality rate decreased 33.4 percent from 1990 to 2010 and the "decrease in infant mortality from 2009 to 2010 – both in terms of the actual number of infant deaths (1,864 fewer deaths) and in the rate (3.9 percent lower) – represents the largest single-year drop since 1995." This is great news for MCH, and a public health success story deserving national recognition and celebration!

While further study around the causes of the decline in infant mortality are warranted, here are some initial observations:

  1. Public health efforts supported by the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant – along with other critical programs, including Medicaid, WIC, Healthy Start, community health centers, and critical centers of CDC and the National Institutes of Health, are making a difference in saving babies’ lives.
  2. While we celebrate the declining rate, our progress in reducing persistent disparities between whites and blacks and Native Americans only improved slightly and needs heightened attention to accelerate progress.
  3. Improvements realized in 2010 reflect investments policymakers made over time. While this improvement is welcome good news, budget cuts coinciding with the economic downturn beginning in 2008 are creating major challenges to sustain this success.
  4. We need more investigation to determine what the key drivers are in this success, and how we can sustain and accelerate progress to ensure the healthiest possible start for every baby born in the United States.

As this issue of Pulse highlights, there is unprecedented national momentum around improving birth outcomes and reducing infant mortality. Let’s celebrate the recent success in reducing infant mortality and continue to work together to ensure the continuation of this exciting trend!