The infant mortality rate reflects the quality of prenatal and birth care available to both children and mothers. Virginia's infant mortality rate is higher than the national average, but the state's health professionals are addressing this complex problem via a range of approaches, from researching the causes of infant mortality to promoting healthy prenatal care among at-risk populations.
Why is This Important?
Infant mortality is defined by the number of infant deaths (before age one) per 1,000 live births and is an indication of the quality and accessibility of prenatal care for pregnant women. The infant mortality rate is a critical indicator in the overall health and welfare of a nation.
How is Virginia Doing?
In 2009 -- the most recent year available for national-level data -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Virginia's infant mortality rate the 17th highest in the nation, with 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births; unfortunately, this was an increase from 2008’s rate of 6.9. Virginia's rate was greater than the national average of 6.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, but lower than all its peer states: Tennessee (8.0), North Carolina (7.9), and Maryland (7.3). The state of Iowa had the lowest mortality rate in the nation in 2009 at 4.6 infant deaths.
Since 2007, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been working with local health districts and community health leaders to combat infant mortality in especially vulnerable areas of the state. Although there are sometimes marked swings in regional performance, that approach overall is yielding results, as VDH’s figures for 2011 show the infant mortality rate had dropped to 6.7. The Valley region had the lowest rate of infant deaths at 4.0, while the Eastern region had the highest rate at 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Virginia ranked 12th out of the 50 states in terms of adequacy of prenatal care in 2011, with 85 percent of pregnant women receiving care in the first trimester.
What Influences Infant Mortality?
Key factors associated with increased risk of infant mortality include:
Socioeconomic Factors: Communities with high rates of poverty; substandard housing; illiteracy; exposure to alcohol, illicit drugs, or pollutants such as cigarette smoke, paint, lead, and asbestos.
Physical Causes: Congenital malformations; disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight; sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); maternal complications; maternal substance abuse; cord and placental complications; accidents; respiratory distress of newborn; bacterial sepsis of newborn; neonatal hemorrhage; intrauterine hypoxia and birth asphyxia; and maternal age.
What is the State's Role?
Virginia is working to eliminate disparities among racial and ethnic groups with infant mortality rates above the national average. Public health agencies continue to monitor infant mortality trends for all racial and ethnic groups, and are focusing on modifying the behaviors, lifestyles, and conditions that affect birth outcomes, such as smoking, substance abuse, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, medical problems, and chronic illness.
Substantial investments have been made in health services delivery to reduce disparities in access to health care. The plan to reduce infant mortality rates includes:
- creating a network between health care experts and minority communities to educate and encourage healthy behaviors in pregnant women and parents;
- participating in national research on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) to identify at-risk infants more precisely and create effective interventions.
The federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program provides supplemental nutrition, nutrition education and counseling, breast feeding support, and referrals to health and other social services at no charge.
Family planning services are provided in all local health departments across the state. They serve females of all ages; males may access more limited reproductive health services.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data and Definitions
Regional Data: Virginia Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics
(updated annually in December)
State Data: National
Center for Health Statistics,
Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/nvsr.htm
(updated annually in May)
Prenatal Health Care Data: United Health Foundation, America’s Health Rankings. http://www.americashealthrankings.org/
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.