EAST CHICAGO — Indiana's top health official said the state's infant mortality rate remains among the nation's highest, despite efforts to combat what he called a "horrible" situation.
In 2011, Indiana had the nation's 47th-highest infant mortality rate, with 7.7 of every 1,000 children who were born alive dying before their first birthday, according to provisional data.
State Health Commissioner Dr. William C. VanNess II met Tuesday with health care workers and lawmakers in East Chicago, hoping to spark discussion on ways to improve the state's death rate among its youngest residents.
VanNess told the gathering that lowering the date rate among the state's youngest residents is one of the State Department of Health's top three initiatives, the Times of Munster reported. He said the state "can't keep this hidden anymore."
"Indiana is horrible at infant mortality. Horrible. We are 47th out of 50 states," he said.
While the issue hasn't gone unnoticed, VanNess said previous efforts to lower the high death rate haven't produced the desired results.
A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Indiana ranked sixth nationally in 2010 for infant mortality.
The state's provisional data for 2011 shows that aside from an overall infant mortality rate of 7.7 per 1,000 live births, the rate for black infants was 12.4, and 6.9 percent for white infants.
A live birth refers to a child who shows signs of life, such as breathing, gasping or heart action, once the newborn is entirely outside of the mother.
VanNess said the reasons for Indiana's high death rate among infants are difficult to pinpoint.
"There are a lot of factors that figure in to infant mortality," he said.
Indiana has high rates of obesity and smoking, both of which tie into infant mortality. The state ranks 41st nationally in overall health, VanNess said.
Data from 2010 showed that 17.1 percent of pregnant Indiana women smoked during pregnancy, compared with 9.2 percent nationally.
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said it's important for that and other information to reach the people.
"It's all about education and educating people," he said.
VanNess said offering support and using social workers to spread information and resources have been successful in addressing other health concerns.
He said the state could work more closely with physicians to get data that may provide a bigger picture to the issue.
VanNess said that funding cuts complicate the infant mortality rate issue, forcing the health department to do more with less. He said that two-thirds of the state agency's budget comes from federal dollars.
Brown said a challenge with getting lawmakers involved is helping people overcome the hurdle of thinking there's already too much government involvement in their lives.