Last week I along with several of my public health colleagues sat with Governor Bredesen during lunch. He pointed to us and asked “I need a simple message. Just as children we learned that ‘we must brush our teeth daily and visit the dentist,’ what message can I use to help reduce infant mortality in our state?”
We were stumped. How could we summarize such a complex topic into just a few sentences?
Infant mortality is an enormous state problem; sadly, Tennessee ranks 48th in the nation. Infant mortality is a Shelby county problem. Sorrowfully, the infant mortality rate in Shelby county is 65% higher than the rest of the state. Infant mortality is a racial problem. Unfortunately, a child born to an African-American mother is three times more likely to die before his or her first birthday compared with to a child born to at a white mother.
So the campaign “1 For All: every baby deserves a first birthday! Reducing infant mortality in Tennessee” was called to action. Appropriately, Governor Bredeson and Mayor A. C. Wharton spend a day with experts planning and prioritizing.
So we fumbled for a message the governor suggested an option. “Can I say to the young women ‘don’t get pregnant before 18 and visit your doctor regularly.”
“No” I answered. “There is something more important to health than going to your doctor and even teen pregnancy. It’s education.”
Dr. Camara Jones, an epidemiologist from Centers for Disease Control, nodded in agreement.
“In the developing countries one of the best predictors of infant mortality is the literacy level of the mother.” I continued, “we need to add education to our message”
The data from Tennessee Department of Helath shows the impact of mother’s education on the health of the child. For example, African-American mothers with a college education have an infant mortality rate of 10.5 per 1000 live births compared with 18.3 for mother’s without a high school education.
High school drop out rate is America is shameful. In 2003, only 72 percent of girls received high school diploma and the rate was even lower for African-American girls, 59 percent.
So, as our lunch came to a close …the message for young women.
“Stay in school and don’t get pregnant as a teen.”