NASHVILLE – The overall death rate for Tennessee children dropped by 20 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to information released today by the State Child Fatality Review team.
Notable factors in that reduction are a decrease in sleep-related infant deaths due to suffocation or strangulation, which were down 16.8 percent from 2010 to 2011, and a 20 percent drop in deaths of black children between 2007 and 2011.
In 13 categories of fatalities measured in the report, Tennessee was identified as improving in 10 and stable in three. The reduction in total children deaths from five years ago represents a difference of 189 lives, the equivalent of more than nine Kindergarten classrooms of children.
These numbers are included in an annual report compiled by the Tennessee Department of Health and provided to Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly Tuesday. A total of 31 interdisciplinary teams comprised of more than 600 Tennesseans representing 31 judicial districts participated in the annual local child fatality review teams’ work in 2011. Team members, who serve without pay, follow a process developed by the National Maternal and Child Health Center and conducted a robust review of 802 deaths of children 17 years of age or younger.
The data gathered by the teams is submitted to the State Child Fatality Review team, a group of elected officials, commissioners and other policy makers authorized by the Child Fatality Review and Prevention Act of 1995. The State CFR team uses aggregated data to analyze incidence rate and causes of child deaths to identify and recommend evidenced-based preventive actions to lower the rate of child fatalities in Tennessee.
“The review process is designed to put greater focus on the public health response to preventable child mortality,” said TDH Commissioner and State CFR Review team chairman John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40,000 children 17 years and younger die each year in the United States. The work of the local child fatality teams and the State CFR team is a critical part of state and national efforts to improve and save lives of our precious children.”
The report does not include deaths of less than 22 weeks gestation and less than 500 grams in weight, as those babies are not mature enough to be expected to survive. Of the 802 deaths meeting review criteria for the 2011 report, only three were not completed due to a lack of pending contributing information, such as autopsy results or legal investigations.
The 2011 efforts include a number of improvements from previous annual efforts, including:
• State CFR staff conducted quality reviews of local reports to help improve accuracy.
• The report format was revised and content expanded to include more comparative information with national data.
• State Team meetings were held more frequently to follow up on recommendations.
Some key points from the Tennessee data show:
• Of all child deaths*:
o 62 percent were due to natural (medical) causes, including prematurity, congenital anomalies, cancer, heart disease and infections
o 26 percent of all deaths were attributed to injuries due to motor vehicles, weapons, fire/burn, poisoning/overdose, asphyxia, drowning, fall/crush or other causes
• Of all infant deaths, 20 percent were from hazards in unsafe sleep environments. Of those:
o 84 percent were babies not sleeping in a crib or bassinette
o 67 percent were babies not sleeping alone
o 50 percent were babies not sleeping on their backs
• 30 percent of all deaths were noted to be “probably preventable”
*Note: A death could be included in multiple categories.
“While we are pleased to have made improvements in the review process and progress in most areas of reducing deaths, we remain disturbed that too many of our children are dying from preventable causes,” Dreyzehner said. “We are troubled by the racial disparity showing black children with a higher rate of mortality. Most preventable child deaths involve complex societal and medical challenges, requiring a high level of collaborative efforts to make more significant differences. We must continue finding ways to build on our successes, such as the ‘ABCs of Safe Sleep’ initiative in Tennessee, to drive positive change.”