Three communities to join Best Babies Zone initiative

April 7, 2017

The Best Babies Zone Initiative (BBZ) at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health has announced that it will expand to three new communities: Indianapolis, IN; Kalamazoo, MI; and Portland, OR. These three new zones will become BBZ’s Cohort 2, joining the three pilot zones of Cohort 1.

The BBZ is a place-based, multi-sector initiative that mobilizes community residents and organizational partners to address the social and economic determinants of health and reduce disparities in infant mortality and birth outcomes.

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. Clinical interventions like prenatal care are not enough to reduce this gap, and there is growing recognition that factors such as racism, economic stability, educational opportunity, and chronic exposure to stress play a critical role in these disparities.

This expansion of the BBZ Initiative is made possible by a three-year, $1.4M grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, received in 2016.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

In 2012, with an initial $2.75M grant from the WKKF, the BBZ Initiative launched three Cohort 1 zones to address inequities in birth outcomes in Cincinnati, OH; New Orleans, LA; and Oakland, CA. Over the past 5 years, these zones have piloted the BBZ approach to addressing the social determinates of health and eliminating racial inequities in birth outcomes.

“We’re delighted to bring on this new cohort of zones.” said Dr. Cheri Pies, clinical professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and principal investigator of the BBZ. “Each new zone brings a unique set of multi-sector partners and community engagement expertise to this critical work of improving neighborhood conditions so that all children and families can thrive.”

In the three new zones, organizations and residents have begun working together within small neighborhoods. While working towards the same ideals, each community within the new BBZ zones is unique in the assets it brings to improving birth outcomes through a place-based effort.

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health serves as the lead agency for the BBZ Initiative. Major national partners include the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP), CityMatCH, the National Healthy Start Association, and a team of expert consultants. For more information about Best Babies Zone, please visit