Indiana held a big summit on infant mortality Friday. That's important, because the state's infant mortality rate is so awful.
The Kids Count Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports 640 Hoosier infants under age 1 died in 2010. That gives Indiana an infant mortality rate of 7.6 deaths per 1,000 children compared to the U.S. rate of 6.1. Indiana's rate is among the worst in the nation.
There's a lot of work to be done in Indiana.
In a new report released Friday, the March of Dimes gave Indiana credit for reducing the number of preterm births by 8 percent since 2009. That earned the state a B in the March of Dimes report.
Based on preliminary data, the March of Dimes said the rate of preterm births in Indiana fell to 10.9 percent. The national rate is 11.5 percent.
Preterm births are considered important because children born early tend not to be as healthy as children born later.
"The last few weeks before birth really develop the brains and the lungs," said Victor Garcia, division director for March of Dimes of Northwest Indiana.
"A lot were being pre-born unnecessarily," Garcia said, but hospitals are switching to a 39-week quality improvement schedule.
But there's still a long way to go on other measures.
Smoking during pregnancy seems an obvious no-no, but 16 percent of Hoosier mothers reported smoking during pregnancy in 2011. The national average is 9 percent. In LaPorte County, the rate is an astonishing 26.8 percent. LaPorte County must make a big push to address this serious public health concern.
Birth weights are another factor in infant health. Indiana's rate of low birthweight babies — defined as under about 5.5 pounds — is 8.1 percent. But the rates in Lake and LaPorte counties were 9.2 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively.
Expectant mothers need proper nutrition, and poverty — the rates are high in both Lake and LaPorte counties — can be hard on children.
In fact, the Casey Foundation report out Monday found half of Hoosier children age 8 and younger live in poverty.
Poverty is hard on everyone, but especially on young children. It's a big factor in Indiana's infant mortality rate.
The March of Dimes effort to reduce the number of preterm births deserves recognition, but that alone isn't enough to reduce Indiana's infant mortality rate below the national average.
Friday's infant mortality summit was a good start toward addressing this problem, but it's going to take follow-through in every county to bring Hoosier infants the protection they need.