Radio ads focus on minority infant death rates in Balto. Co.

Racial disparities linked to low birth weights, unsafe sleeping practices and other factors

April 04, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Women in the Baltimore area will soon hear radio ads urging prenatal care as local health officials continue efforts to stem high minority infant mortality rates.

Black infants in the Baltimore area are nearly twice as likely to die as white babies, according to state health statistics from 2009. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has given Baltimore County grants — including $84,000 last year and $30,000 this year — for programs and informational campaigns aimed at lowering the rate.

"This gives us an opportunity to give people information about healthier pregnancies with better outcomes," said Linda Grossman, the county's chief of clinical services.

The new campaign will include commercials on radio stations 92Q (92.3 FM) and Magic 95 (95.9 FM) with pro-prenatal care and anti-smoking themes.

Smoking is associated with low birth weight, premature deliveries and increased risks for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and asthma. The county offers smoking cessation classes.

Officials also plan to create more materials for distribution at community events, health fairs and county clinics; and to host "safe care" parenting sessions for teen mothers that also emphasize completing high school.

Last year's campaign targeted women 16 to 35 years old with ads to run along with movie previews at theaters. The ads encourage them to seek prenatal care, inquire about health insurance eligibility, and educate them about proper sleeping positions for infants and the hazards of shaking babies.

Maryland's infant mortality rate for all babies is 7.2 per 1,000 live births, compared with 13.5 in Baltimore City and 7.4 in Baltimore County. For black infants, the rates are much higher — 18.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in the city and 15.3 in the county.

Rates in neighboring counties, including Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard, range from 3.2 to 6.9 overall and 6 to 12.9 for black babies. In Carroll County, however, the infant mortality rate for black infants is 21.7 per 1,000 live births compared to 4.5 overall.

Experts attribute the racial disparities to higher rates of bacterial infections, low birth weight, problems during birth and other complications, as well as unsafe sleeping practices — putting children to bed on their stomachs, or on something other than a crib or bassinet.

In addition to Baltimore County, the state has targeted the city, Prince George's and Montgomery counties for outreach efforts.

Baltimore County's campaign will run through June. Officials anticipate getting about $100,000 next year for future programs.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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