State will invest in infant mortality campaign 

click to enlarge WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • wikimedia commons

The state will spend $1.3 million on a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing Indiana’s rate of infant deaths, which is among the highest in the nation.

A combination of television, radio, online, transit and other ads will launch next month with messages meant to encourage breastfeeding and prenatal care and discourage pregnant women and parents from smoking, using drugs, and sleeping with their babies.

The campaign will begin with a larger message about infant mortality. “One baby dies approximately every 13 hours in Indiana,” reads one ad in the Labor of Love campaign.

“Indiana has one of the highest infant death rates in the country,” the ad says. “Your actions do make a difference.”

Initially, ads will focus on an image of a single burning birthday candle. “It’ll talk a lot about why helping our children make it to their first birthday is so important,” said Deana Haworth, the senior vice president for Hirons & Co, an Indianapolis advertising and public relations firm.

That initial burst of publicity will be followed by “nuanced, very targeted campaigns” that address issues including safe sleep, prenatal care, breast feeding and drugs and alcohol, Haworth said.

One of those ads shows a crying baby and reads, “I’m cranky. I didn’t get my cigarette today.” The messages were tested using focus groups.

Haworth said the goal is to drive viewers to the campaign’s website and encourage them to call 211, a phone number that provides callers with social service referrals.

click to enlarge The state will use a variety of ads, like the one shown here, in a campaign to reduce infant mortality. - COURTESY OF THE INDIANA STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
  • The state will use a variety of ads, like the one shown here, in a campaign to reduce infant mortality.
  • Courtesy of the Indiana State Department of Health

Haworth detailed the campaign Wednesday to the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana, which went on to approve several recommendations aimed at encouraging hospitals to be better prepared to treat special needs babies.

The ads and recommendations are part of a larger state effort to battle infant mortality, which has become of Gov. Mike Pence’s key goals. In fact, the state is spending $1.3 million to hire an outside firm to coordinate and study infant mortality data.

Already, the Indiana officials know that in 2011, the state’s infant mortality rate – which includes the death of all babies before their first birthdays – was 7.7 per 1,000 births. That ranked 45th in the nation.

In 2012, the rate improved to 6.7 but State Health Commissioner William VanNess warned that could be simply an anomaly.

Of the 556 infant deaths in 2012, nearly half were caused by so-called perinatal risks, which include low birth weights and pre-term births. Nearly one quarter were caused by birth defects and about 14 percent by accidental suffocations, sudden infant death syndrome and other accidents. Another 1.3 percent were caused by assault and neglect and 14 percent were in the “other” category.

State health officials say many of the deaths can be prevented, particularly by addressing problems with smoking and obesity. More than 16 percent of pregnant women smoke and more than 30 percent of women on Medicaid smoke when they’re pregnant, even though it can lead to lower birth weights.

And a woman who is obese is 25 percent more likely to give birth too early, while those who are classified as morbidly obese have a one in three chance of a premature delivery.

In addition, state officials say, too few women – particularly those in poverty – receive care while they are pregnant and too many fail to breast feed once their babies are born.

State Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, is a member of the commission and said after the meeting that improving Hoosiers’ understanding of the infant mortality issue is key to solving it. And that, she said, will likely take more than $1.3 million.

“You can’t sit in a committee and talk about these problems,” Riecken said. “The only way you can get the message out is by serious marketing and social media. And that’s going to take money.”

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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