Three new communities join Best Babies Zone initiative to reduce racial inequalities in infant mortality

November 13, 2017

The Best Babies Zone Initiative (BBZ) at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health announced today that it will expand to three new communities: Milwaukee, New York City (Harlem), and Cleveland. These Cohort 3 zones will join the six Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 zones in the place-based, multi-sector initiative to reduce racial inequities in infant mortality by mobilizing community residents and organizational partners to address the social and structural determinants of health.

Despite recent declines in national infant mortality rates, African American babies are still twice as likely to die in their first year of life compared to white babies. While important, clinical interventions like prenatal care have not been enough to reduce this gap. There is growing recognition that factors such as economic stability, educational opportunity, chronic exposure to stress, and racism all play a critical role in these inequities.

“Each of the new zones is uniquely positioned to advance the BBZ vision that all babies are born healthy, in communities that enable them to thrive and reach their full potential,” said Clinical Professor Cheri Pies, BBZ Initiative principal investigator. “We are delighted to welcome the new Zones into our robust Learning Community and excited to learn with them as they work to address the structural determinants of health and racial inequities in birth outcomes in their communities.”

In 2012, with an initial $2.75M grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the BBZ Initiative launched three Cohort 1 zones to address inequities in birth outcomes in Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Oakland. In 2016, thanks to a three-year, $1.4M grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, three Cohort 2 zones joined the initiative: Indianapolis; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Portland, Oregon. This funding also allowed for the development of the BBZ Technical Assistance Center, which provides targeted support, product development, and thought partnership to the zones. With Cohort 3, the BBZ Technical Assistance Center will continue to apply lessons learned from the pilot Zones to support these communities in applying the four foundational strategies of the BBZ approach: place-based focus, multi-sector collaboration, community-driven action, and supporting social movements.

The BBZ in Cleveland will focus on the Hough Neighborhood, one of Cleveland’s oldest neighborhoods on the city’s east side. The history of Hough reflects the impact of systemic racism and many of the social determinants of well-being. In this predominantly black neighborhood, the infant mortality rate is 22.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The BBZ in Milwaukee will focus on the Westlawn neighborhood, located on the city’s northwest side. In the 1970s, the Westlawn neighborhood was hit hard by Milwaukee’s loss of industry jobs and continues to experience limited economic opportunity. Babies in the Westlawn zip code die at rates that are 25% higher than the rest of the city (11.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared to an infant mortality rate of 9 for the city).

The BBZ in New York City will focus on Central Harlem—a vibrant community that has experienced redlining from the 1930s to the late 1960s, urban decay and crime, and recent gentrification. The neighborhood has one of the highest low birth weight rates in New York City, a high maternal mortality rate, and an infant mortality rate of 8.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The Cleveland BBZ will be led by Birthing Beautiful Communities, Neighborhood Connections, and the Greater University Circle Community Health Initiative. The Milwaukee BBZ will be led by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and the Mayor’s Office. The Harlem BBZ will be led by Greater Harlem Healthy Start within the Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership.