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Straight Talk: Low Birth Weight Babies & Infant Mortality — A Quintessential Sustainability Issue

Upon being handed a copy of Sustainable Pittsburgh’s weighty Southwestern Pennsylvania Sustainability Goals & Indicators Report, Angela Glover Blackwell’s gaze landed on the Infant Health indicator.  Renowned as a leading voice in the movement for equity in America, the PolicyLink executive director immediately commented on the remarkable story here.

While infant mortality remains a serious public health issue, exhibiting stark racial disparities, the numbers offer some encouragement.  Rates of infant deaths decreased between 2003 and 2012 in Allegheny County, where infant mortality has historically been high, particularly among African Americans.  And, African American infant mortality rates have declined more sharply than the rate in the white population.

Why?  Can we attribute the progress to an excellent Healthy Start program, overall economics, the rising age of new mothers, access to prenatal healthcare, emergency delivery care, and/or any number of public health interventions for mothers?  Such are the interconnections and complexities.

Fortunately, healthcare providers are working hard to find the answers, and the media are doing their part as well.  Addressing infant mortality is among top priorities of the Allegheny County Health Department’s Plan for a Healthier Allegheny.  The plan is rich in strategies identified by the region’s experts, with targets for improvements.

With such efforts and better understanding of the challenges, the region is greatly improving odds of accelerating the positive trends.  As we identify positive interventions, they also can perhaps be applied to tackle other pressing health issues.  Our region’s sustainability rides on our ability to pinpoint problems, causes, and remedies, and then collaborate on the fixes.  Infant mortality is a tragedy, but it is one that speaks volumes of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s resolve in the urgent quest for regional sustainable development.