Monday, May 19, 2008

TarHeels Bus Tour - a very special week - and much more to be learned.

This past week 30 or so new faculty from UNC had the unique opportunity to tour the parts of the state most folks don't get to see, and to better understand the role of UNC faculty in the advancement of our state. Each of us experienced this trip through our own set of prisms - the journalist came away with questions about teaching social journalism; the environmentalist made contacts for future exploration; the political scientists explored ideas that I can only begin to understand; and all of us who work internationally saw parallels and new issues as yet unexplored. All of us came away with a new vision of the state, the history and political complexities, and the way money is spent in the name of the public good.

From the perspective of the reproductive health continuum, surprisingly little was said. In Hendersonville we discussed the aging of the population, in Kannapolis and points west we discussed individual metabolism, school age and organic nutrition; and in Rocky Mount we discussed breast cancer awareness.

We hardly touched on the epidemic of infant mortality in North Carolina, that leaves us 44th among all states in terms of infant survival. ( United Health Foundation, 2007 Report. URL: We did not discuss coverage of reproductive freedoms, nor the health impact of high fertility rates. So here are some data:
  • Infant mortality is the death of a baby in its first year of life. Minority babies in NC are more than two times more likely to die before their first birthday, with a reported infant death rate of 13.6 in 2006, vs 6.0 for White infants.
  • Breastfeeding reduces mortality due to the four leading causes of infant death in North Carolina: pre-maturity/low birth weight, SIDS, respiratory diseases and sepsis.
  • Lack of breastfeeding increases breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity in moms.
  • While the percentage of all North Carolina mothers who report “ever breastfed” in 2005 are comparable to national figures, 86% of Hispanic mothers in North Carolina reported they “ever breastfed” while only 76% of White and 48% of Black mothers reported ever breastfeeding. State and national rates for initial breastfeeding are similar for the White population, the rates for Hispanics in NC are slightly higher, and breastfeeding among African-Americans nearly 8 percentage points lower in NC compared to the US.
  • According to an unpublished report produced by the Center for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care/UNC, “The Potential Impact of Improved Breastfeeding on Associated Health Disparities: Brief for Perinatal Mortality Committee of the Child Fatality Task Force”, anywhere from 5%-17% fewer infant deaths could occur as a result of increases in breastfeeding.
  • Pregnancy rate is about 90 for minorities and about 77 for Whites in NC.
  • Fetal death rates are more than twice as high for Minorities.
  • The majority of abortions in NC are provided in only nine counties, predominantly in the Southwest and Northeast of the state, occur among minorities, and among women with at least a high school education.
  • Since both pregnancy rates and abortion rates are higher among minorities, one may infer that there is an unmet need for family planning in NC, especially among minorities.

Just some addition thoughts to add to our considerations of the needs of North Carolinians, and how we might support the state.

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