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By Rose Hoban
Fewer North Carolina children under the age of 15 died in 2011 than in the previous year, continuing a downward trend of the child death rate that’s been ongoing since 1991.
According to new data from the NC State Center for Health Statistics, fewer children in North Carolina died from all causes, including poisoning, motor vehicle accidents, drownings and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.
“North Carolina has gone from being ranked in the bottom the nation, to being in the middle of the nation in the number of child deaths,” said Elizabeth Hudgins, executive director of the Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative study group. According to Hudgins, when the task force formed in 1991, North Carolina ranked in the bottom ten states nationally in child death rates. Now the state ranking falls somewhere in the mid-20s.
In 1991, the child death rate was 107 child deaths per 100,000, now that rate is down to 57.4 out of every 100,000, a 46 percent decline, according to the report, which was released Thursday.
The declining death rate means that about 10,400 child deaths have been averted over the past twenty years.
Hudgins said many factors have gone into the decline: Cars are safer, more children use helmets on bicycles, educational campaigns have taught parents the safest way to place infants for sleeping and drowning deaths have decreased after beefed up water safety efforts.
“It’s hard to point to any one thing and say that’s the reason,” said Hudgins. “But it means that knitting together of the sustained and strategic focus on investments to reduce child deaths… that’s finally paying off.”
Hudgins did say that the number of adolescents who died from overdoses of prescriptions painkillers has steadily climbed over the past few years, and motor vehicle crashes continue to be a problem. But deaths from other causes have been dropping steadily.
Many states review deaths of children, in particular focusing on deaths suspected to be as a result of abuse or neglect. But few states have created and maintained policy-review bodies like the Child Fatality Task Force to review all causes of child deaths and attempt to address them.