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Press Release

For Immediate Release: March 16, 1999
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

Infant Mortality Declines Dramatically Among Northwest American Indians and Alaska Natives

The infant mortality rate among Northwest American Indians and Alaska Natives declined dramatically between 1985 and 1996, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infant mortality rate decreased from 20.0 to 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, with much of that decrease due to fewer cases of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or "crib death").

In the United States, the national infant mortality rate has declined steadily for decades, from 10.6 to 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1985 and 1996. But significant disparities among racial and ethnic groups remain in this health area. In the 1980s, for example, the infant mortality rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives living in Washington, Oregon and Idaho was twice as high as the rate for whites in the same area.

"The decline in infant mortality among American Indians and Alaska Natives is very good news," says the report's author, Dr. Dee Robertson, Director of the Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board in Portland, Oregon. "Now what we need to do is find out why it has declined so we can help other communities to reduce their infant mortality rate."

Racial health disparities have drawn the attention of the Clinton administration, which last year, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched the Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health. Disparities in infant mortality is one of six health areas targeted by this Initiative for elimination by the year 2010.

The infant mortality rate varies among American Indian and Alaska Native groups across the country. The latest data published by the Indian Health Service show that for 1992-94 the rates ranged from a low of 8.0 per 1,000 live births to a high of 15.6 among American Indian and Alaska native groups. During the same period, the national average for all races was about 8.4 per 1,000 live births.

Across the country, SIDS has been a major cause of infant mortality. The national rate of SIDS dropped from 1.2 per 1,000 in 1992 to 0.78 per 1,000 in 1996. This is thought to be largely due to the national "Back to Sleep" campaign, which encouraged parents to place their babies on their backs to sleep, reduce infant exposure to second hand smoke, and avoid use of excessive covers for the infant at night.

Among Northwest American Indians and Alaska Natives, the largest single cause of infant mortality has been SIDS. But the SIDS rate declined between 1985 and 1996 from 8.4 to 3.3. The decline in SIDS among Northwest American Indian and Alaska Natives is greater than the national decline.


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