Despite a statewide decrease in deaths among children younger than 1, the infant mortality rate in Miami-Dade has crept upward.

In the state of Florida, the number of infant deaths decreased from 1,667 in 2008 to 1,524 in 2009, the year with the most recent data available. While the increase is slight in Miami-Dade — from 174 deaths in 2008 to 188 deaths in 2009 — child experts say the data is worth worrying about.

Manuel Fermin, the CEO of the Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade, says the increase could be an indicator of things to come in the state of Florida.

“There is a lag,” he says, “but Miami-Dade is a bell-weather for the state of Florida.”

In Florida, the infant death rate went up for African-American babies, as well as Hispanic babies. According to the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Statistics (below), the number of deaths among babies who were “black or other races” rose from 77 in 2008 to 94 in 2009.

Hispanic infant deaths, according to the most recent data, increased from 85 deaths in 2008 to 87 deaths in 2009 in Miami-Dade, according to the same data. Fermin says the increase among Hispanic babies is particularly alarming.

“Immigrants usually have bigger and healthy babies,” Fermin says. “If there is an increase there — it is a problem.”

Fermin explains that immigrant women are generally healthier than women who have lived in the United States their whole life. Immigrant women, he says, have spent less time exposed to the sedentary lifestyle of Americans and have eaten less unhealthy foods. Fermin explains that this has contributed to healthier birth outcomes in the past few years.

However, he says the stress associated with Florida’s troubled economy — especially the effect it has had on minorities — is a large factor driving up the number of infant deaths in the county.

Fermin also says that budget cuts to programs such as his employer, Healthy Start, could exacerbate the effects of the economy. Healthy Start coalitions are community-based prenatal care centers for at-risk mothers and babies. The group’s services were created to combat infant mortality and improve the health of babies.

In the past two to three years, cuts to women’s and children’s health programs have been common. Groups that serve children and families, particularly at-risk populations, have lost millions in funding. Groups such as Healthy Families Florida and Healthy Start have taken a big hit in the past two years.

“We have been cutting all the safety nets,” he explains. “Right now there are more people in crisis with more stress in their lives.”

The state Legislature, however, has had the opportunity to provide these groups with millions of dollars in federal funds. The federal government awarded the state of Florida millions for home visiting programs aimed at helping children. Both Healthy Families Florida and Healthy Start currently have home visiting programs. However, GOP legislators are politically opposed to the source of the funds, so the funds were rejected.

Fermin says that the rejection of those funds could hurt Miami-Dade a little more than some other counties because he says the area relies disproportionately on federal funds.

The latest data only shows the rates from 2009. The most austere budget cuts have taken place in the past two years.

Recently, an independent policy group reported that the cuts to health care made by the state Legislature and Scott were “unnecessarily harmful.”

The data:

Infant Mortality FL 2009

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