$1.4M grant will bring Best Babies Zone strategies to more communities

August 8, 2016

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health has been awarded a $1.4M grant to combat infant mortality by working closely with organizations and community residents to address interrelated social determinants of health. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant will support a Best Babies Zone (BBZ) Initiative expansion to several new zones and launch the BBZ Technical Assistance Center.

Castlemont Community MarketThe BBZ Initiative is a multi-sector approach to reducing infant mortality and racial disparities in birth outcomes and improving birth and health outcomes.

Despite declines in overall U.S. infant mortality rates, in 2013 the CDC found that African American infants are still twice as likely to die as white infants. Clinical interventions like prenatal or neonatal care can help to reduce this gap, but BBZ principal investigator Cheri Pies believes a more holistic, public health approach will have a greater effect.

“Economic stability, educational opportunity, chronic exposure to stress, and racism all play a critical role in these disparities,” says Pies, clinical professor at the School of Public Health. “Equity in birth outcomes—and in health more generally—will be achieved only when organizations work with communities and with each other to improve neighborhood conditions.”

The new Technical Assistance Center will assist community organizations that want to follow the example of the three BBZ pilot zones launched in 2012 with an initial grant of $2.75M from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. These zones are located in Oakland, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, and have identified critical lessons for organizations looking for creative solutions to addressing infant mortality in the broader community environments.

“Fostering cross-sector partnerships and programs, with a focus on the social determinants of health, between communities and health services organizations is crucial in ensuring that each baby has a fighting chance at life despite adversity,” says Pies. “This generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will ensure other communities and organizations can learn from the experiences of the first three BBZs, and improve the chances that all children and families can thrive.”

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health serves as the lead agency for the BBZ Initiative. Major national partners include the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP), CityMatCH, and the National Healthy Start Association. The BBZ work will be conducted under the coordinated efforts of a team of expert consultants, as well as national and local advisory boards.

By Carli Million

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