The Herald Bulletin

November 13, 2013

Editorial: Healthy first birthdays should be statewide goal


The Herald Bulletin

---- — It’s no secret we live in one of the unhealthiest counties in one of the unhealthiest states in the nation.

But do you know just how at risk the youngest, most precious members of our population are?

Last week, Indiana Health Commissioner Bill VanNess of Anderson revealed to a meeting of public health officials from across the state that Indiana’s infant mortality rate was 7.7 deaths per every 1,000 babies, the sixth-highest rate in the nation.

He called the alarming statistic “unacceptable.” No doubt, the same description applies to Madison County’s rate of 7.8 deaths per 1,000 babies.

Health officials face a huge challenge in bringing down those rates. Many risk factors for pregnant women contribute to high infant death rates: among them, obesity, lack of prenatal care and smoking.

Obesity and prenatal care are complex issues without easy solutions. But how can it be that almost 50 years after the first Surgeon General’s Report warning Americans about the dangers of smoking that so many women are putting the well-being of their children, not to mention their own health, in jeopardy?

According to 2010 statistics from the Indiana Department of Health, 21.9 percent of pregnant women in Madison County said they smoked while pregnant. That’s significantly higher than the state (17.1) and nationwide (12.8) averages.

Not only are these women putting lives in danger, they’re costing you, the taxpayer, millions of dollars a year. According to the director of the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission, Miranda Spitznagle, the state spends $28 million a year on health costs for infants born to mothers who smoke.

And the problem is likely to grow. This May, the Indiana Legislature cut funding from smoking-cessation programs. Those combating one of our state’s biggest health issues will have $3 million less to do it.

We all have a moral obligation to confront these issues and protect those who can’t protect themselves. A good first step is appealing to lawmakers to design, implement and fund a plan to reduce the infant mortality rate.

You can do your part with a phone call or email to your state senator or representative to encourage a renewed investment in the goal of every Hoosier baby reaching a healthy first birthday.

In summary We all have a moral obligation to confront Madison County's high infant mortality rate and protect those who can't protect themselves.