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Black Babies In Duval County Almost 3 Times More Likely To Die Before First Birthday

Lindsey Kilbride


Florida’s infant mortality rate is lower than ever, but that isn't the case in the northeastern part of the state.

Duval County's infant mortality rate is higher than the state average, and a disproportionately high number of babies who die are African-American, according to the Duval County Health Department.


Local health officials and community organizations met Thursday to talk about solutions.

Duval County health data show African-American babies are born smaller and earlier than white or Hispanic babies, dating back to 2007. Kristina Wilson, director for the Office of Performance Improvement at the Duval County Health Department, said those factors are among the top five leading to infant deaths.

Duval’s African-American infants are also almost three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthday. In 2014, 15 per 1,000 African-American babies died compared to 4.7 per 1,000 white babies.

This is why Florida health agencies are now meeting to address the problems, said Doctor Kelli Wells with the Duval County Health Department. She said recently the state invested money into local health departments to start the conversation.

Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition Interim CEO Faye Johnson is working with the county to get the right programs in place to target problem areas like prematurity.

“We want to try to ensure that the women are healthy before pregnancy, during pregnancy and in between pregnancies,” Johnson said.

Thursday’s conversation was held in the Edward Waters College Miline Auditorium chapel.

A documentary shown to attendees highlighted stress as a key factor in early births, and some research suggests the everyday subtle racism black women face could trigger stress, such as being followed in the store, or being less likely than a white woman to get a call for a job interview.

The film, “When the Bough Breaks: Unnatural Causes,” points out black women with college degrees are more likely to have a baby die, than a white teenager, so socioeconomics aren’t the only issue. Doctors in the film also conducted studies that determined there wasn’t a “premature” gene in African-American women.

After the screening, New Town Success Zone Executive Director George Maxey challenged people to confront infant mortality in the next month.

“It may be having a conversation, read, learn, share something, but do something in the next 30 days to create change in our county,” he said.

New Town Success Zone is an organization that supports the Edward Waters neighborhood.

Some audience members suggested addressing the stress component in school health curriculum, finding ways to get more fathers in the picture and educating parents about the risks.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.