Growing a Best Babies Zone: Lessons Learned from the Pilot Phase of a Multi-Sector, Place-Based Initiative to Reduce Infant Mortality


Purpose Infant mortality reduction in the U.S. has been addressed predominantly through clinical approaches. While these efforts have reduced the infant mortality rate overall, they have not reduced disparities between different racial/socioeconomic groups. To address the interrelated social, economic and environmental factors contributing to infant mortality, a place-based approach is needed to complement existing initiatives and clinical practices. Description Best Babies Zone (BBZ) is an early attempt to put life course theory into practice, taking a place-based approach to reducing infant mortality by aligning resources, building community leadership, and transforming educational opportunities, economic development, and community systems in concentrated neighborhoods. BBZ is currently in three neighborhoods: Price Hill (Cincinnati, OH), Hollygrove (New Orleans, LA), and Castlemont (Oakland, CA). Assessment In its first 4 years, each BBZ crafted resident-driven strategies for decreasing the root causes of toxic stress and poor birth outcomes. To address resident priorities, BBZ sites experimented with tools from other fields (like design thinking and health impact assessment), and emphasized existing MCH strategies like leadership development. Early challenges, including shifting from traditional MCH interventions and addressing health equity, point to areas of growth in implementing this approach in the maternal and child health field. Conclusion BBZ aims to elevate local voice and mobilize multiple sectors in order to address the social determinants of infant mortality, and other initiatives working to improve MCH outcomes can learn from the successes and challenges of the first 4 years of BBZ in order to bring life course theory into practice.

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Correspondence to Cheri Pies.

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Pies, C., Barr, M., Strouse, C. et al. Growing a Best Babies Zone: Lessons Learned from the Pilot Phase of a Multi-Sector, Place-Based Initiative to Reduce Infant Mortality. Matern Child Health J 20, 968–973 (2016).

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  • Infant mortality
  • Life course theory
  • Place-based approach
  • Social determinants of health
  • Racial and socioeconomic disparities