NEWARK — Over the past 10 years, New Jersey has seen an improvement in infant mortality rates, putting it third in the nation in that category. Despite the improvements overall, the latest data shows that black children born in the state are more than twice as likely to die in infancy than white children.

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Center for Health Statistics in 2014, the infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic black children was 8.89 per 1,000 live births. That is considerably higher than the rate of 3.07 for non-Hispanic white births, according to the data. That same year showed a higher level in places like Camden and Essex counties, where the numbers were 12.15 and 10.32, respectively.

In order to address this issue, a conference is scheduled to be held at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark as a joint effort between The Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey and the SIDS Center of New Jersey at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Hackensack University Medical Center.

Barbara M. Ostfeld, a professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and one of the organizers of the event, said in an interview with Rutgers Today that the infant mortality rate among the various races in New Jersey is "a study in contradiction."

"Based on the most recent national data, New Jersey has the third lowest infant mortality rate in the nation," she said. "Both white and black rates continue to fall below the national average — with the latter's the lowest yet achieved in the state."

Ostfeld said poverty can increase infant mortality, which could be one factor to explain the gap in the rates between black children and others in the state. She said patients in poverty do not have the same access to prenatal care, have higher rates of smoke exposure, and greater family stress which can all contribute to infant mortality.

Despite the challenges, Ostfeld said there have also been successes in helping to lower the infant mortality rates for black children and children in poverty overall. That includes home visiting program like the Strong Start program. She also said an increase in the state's minimum wage could help bring the numbers down further.

She said the conference will include doctors, researchers, public health expects, and faith-based leaders, as well as policymakers and legislators.

"By identifying what has worked, what needs now exist, what approaches and collaborations are most promising and what further resources may be needed, the conference participants expect the program to be a first step toward an ongoing process," she said. "Previous improvements show us that change is possible. From that comes the expectation that even more can be done and must."

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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