The Phoenix Flyer

Policy analysis: FL ranks low on infant health, especially among minorities

By: - December 17, 2019 3:29 pm

Florida ranks poorly among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in infant health, especially among African Americans and native Americans, and it underutilizes programs that could help more children, according to an Early Childhood Policy analysis by the Center for American Progress.

For infants born at low birth weight – a key risk factor – Florida averages 8.7 percent overall, while the rate for African-American babies is 13 percent, says the analysis, released Tuesday.

The Center for American Progress is an independent, nonpartisan policy institute geared toward progressive policy.

Nationally, Florida scored 33 on a scale of 100 for measures of how well its families can meet their health-care and physical needs.

The ranking placed Florida in the second-lowest category along with Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas and Alaska. Florida’s neighbors, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi (the lowest, at 21), fell in the lowest of the five categories, along with Arkansas and West Virginia.

“This analysis shows that the health and vitality of America’s infants vary greatly by race and the policy choices made by states in which they reside,” said Cristina Novoa, senior analyst for early childhood policy, in Tuesday’s announcement of the analysis.

“To narrow these disparities, states must adopt policies to promote the wellness of mothers and their babies and take greater advantage of policies already in place to achieve this goal.”

A key finding cited by Novoa: States such as Florida and its neighbors are “driving poor outcomes and greater disparities in infant health” by not utilizing and promoting the use of existing social benefits such food programs, home visits and expanded Medicaid coverage.

The states were measured for factors including availability of expanded Medicaid benefits (Florida declined to expand Medicaid), usage of available benefits in the Women, Infants and Children food program (54 percent), and eligibility for Medicaid (income capped at about 200 percent of the federal poverty level.)

At the high end of the scale are New York, scoring highest, at 63, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and states on the West Coast. The second-highest category includes Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.

The United States compares with Serbia in terms of overall infant mortality, despite spending nearly 20 times more per capita on health care, the analysis says. And throughout the nation, the mortality is concentrated among minority children.

The analysis concludes that infant mortality and low-weight births often depend on race and where a baby is born. For example, it says white infants born in New Jersey have an infant mortality rate of 3.4 deaths per 1,000 births, but black infants born in Wisconsin are dying at close to five times that rate: 15 deaths per 1,000 births.

Across nearly all states, infant mortality for black and American Indian or Alaska Native infants exceeds the national average, according to the analysis. Massachusetts has the nation’s lowest black infant mortality rate at 7.4 deaths per 1,000 births, while the national average is 5.8 for infants of all races

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.