Report highlights successes and challenges of new approach in reducing infant mortality

May 10, 2016

mother with infantWhile the infant mortality rate has declined in the United States in recent years, disparities between racial and socioeconomic groups still remain. For the past four years, Clinical Professor Cheri Pies has been piloting a multi-sector, place-based initiative called Best Babies Zone (BBZ) in order to close this gap.

Pies and her team recently coauthored an article in Maternal and Child Health Journal that elaborates on the successes and challenges of BBZ’s strategies. The article stresses the importance of combining life course theory with a place-based approach, allowing resident priorities to shape interventions that address the community’s social, economic, and environmental conditions.

The BBZ initiative started in three neighborhoods with poor birth outcomes and potential for applying BBZ strategies: Price Hill in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hollygrove in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Castlemont in Oakland, California. 

“The article highlights some of the early successes in the three zones, including how public health and health services organizations are working with the community to identify sources of toxic stress and poor health, and how these organizations are using tools from other sectors to creatively address these social determinants of infant mortality,” says Monica Braughton, program manager of BBZ. 

While this approach to reducing infant mortality has produced early successes in each community, the article also points out that cross-sector collaboration is a work-in-progress. The authors note that shifting the paradigm from a clinical to a life course approach has taken time. It has also required building partnerships outside the public health sector—to groups like banks, housing organizations, parks and recreation, and educators. These partners play a critical role in determining the health and well-being of community residents, and communicating clearly with these partners about what they can do to reduce infant mortality is central to achieving health equity in each zone. 

Although the BBZ strategy is still in its early stages, the lessons learned from the pilot phase can inform other community-based efforts to achieve equitable birth outcomes, according to the authors of the article.

“This approach is based on a growing body of knowledge about the health outcomes associated with things like toxic stress, racism, and neighborhood conditions,” says Braughton. “We hope that our colleagues in maternal and child health—and in public health more broadly—can build on the lessons learned in the three pilot zones to improve opportunities for children to grow up in healthy communities.” 

The BBZ team also includes Milton Kotelchuck, professor at the Harvard Medical School and consultant of the BBZ Policy Corp. The article was coauthored by Carly Strouse, a DrPH candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

By Jasmin M. Huynh