Baby shoes display offers visual reminder of infant mortality rate

'Those are some of our next governors, presidents,' Healthy Start CEO says

By Ashley Harding - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Anyone visiting Jacksonville's City Hall over the next two weeks will see something unexpected in the main lobby: a wall of baby shoes.

The display might seem cute -- if the reasons for it weren't so somber.

The shoes represent the nearly 150 babies in Northeast Florida who died last year before their first birthday.

September marks Infant Mortality Awareness Month, and according to the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, the number of infants who died rose again last year from 7.3 to 7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The 147 baby shoes at City Hall represent enough children to fill eight kindergarten classes, the coalition said.

"I just would encourage people to go out and just think about what's happening. Those babies, those are some of our next governors, presidents,” said Faye Johnson, CEO of Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition.

MORE: Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition breaks down infant mortality rates

The baby shoes tribute is part of a big picture report set to be released next month. The idea is to bring awareness to the issue that's affecting the community.

The coalition says African-American babies died at 3.5 times the rate of Caucasian babies, with black infant mortality rate at 15.6 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births for white babies.

"So, when you look at some of the social determinants in health surrounding some of those things, we see huge housing issues, for some that live in areas where the housing could be better,” Johnson said.

The health of the mom before and during pregnancy can also play a part. Factors that affect mortality can include toxic stress on the mother, or even missing doctor's appointments because of a lack of transportation.

Johnson said a concern once a baby is born is sleep patterns. She said despite years of education, some mothers still sleep with their babies.

According to the 2018 data, 21% of the babies were classified as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, and most of those were sleep-related. Other causes of death include:

  • Prematurity/low birth weight -- 20%
  • Other perinatal conditions -- 31%
  • Congenital anomalies -- 18%
  • Infections -- 3%
  • Injuries -- 3%
  • Other causes -- 4%

The infant mortality rate varied greatly by county, the coalition said. Duval County had a rate of 9.5 deaths per 1,000 live births -- up from eight deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017. Counties with smaller populations, like Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns, tend to fluctuate from year-to-year, and a few additional or less deaths impact the rate much more than more populated counties, the coalition said.

Several groups, including area hospitals, are looking at the records for the 147 babies who died last year and what factors might have contributed to their deaths. The coalition said from there it will form an action plan on how to reduce the infant mortality rate.

Johnson said for things to turn around, awareness must be channeled into action.

"We need everyone's help. It's not a coalition issue, it's a community issue,” Johnson said. “And the community needs to assist us in resolving it."

The display will be at City Hall through Sept. 30. 

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