Indiana agency planning education campaign aimed at reducing state's infant death rate



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INDIANAPOLIS — A state agency is preparing a multimedia campaign aimed at trying to reduce Indiana's high infant-mortality rate.

The State Department of Health plans spending $1.3 million on the "Labor of Love" campaign, which is to start in November with television, radio and online ads.

State Health Commissioner William VanNess told a state panel this week that almost half of Indiana's 258 infant deaths in 2012 were related to risks such as premature birth or low birth weight. Those factors can be caused by a mother's smoking, which deprives the baby of oxygen, or obesity, he said.

Part of the education campaign will focus on breastfeeding, which he said will "save more babies' lives."

Problems with child mortality in the state were reviewed during a meeting Wednesday of the Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children, The Journal Gazette and the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

Officials told the panel that Indiana had a rate of 6.7 children out of every 1,000 births dying before their first birthday during 2012. That was down from 7.7 deaths per 1,000 births a year earlier, but during both years Indiana was among the 10 worst states.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush, a member of the committee, said the campaign is well worth the effort.

"We know that it is directly related to smoking, same-bed sleeping," she said. "I think the more you educate, the more you can inform."

The launch of the campaign will coincide with the state's second summit on infant mortality set for Nov. 13 in Indianapolis.

Committee member state Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, said she didn't believe the campaign's $1.3 million budget would be enough to cover the whole state.

"We have to be aggressive about it if we want to bring the numbers down," Riecken said.

Deana Haworth, senior vice president at Indianapolis marketing firm Hirons & Co., said it conducted focus groups around the state to test the knowledge of expectant and new mothers on key issues. She said most of them knew that pregnant women shouldn't smoke, but many admitted to doing it. And some were confused about whether alcohol use was acceptable in moderation.

Haworth also said many mothers are still sleeping with their children, and the co-sleeping is often tied to breastfeeding.

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