Alabama’s preventable child deaths declining


Money from tobacco companies is being used by Alabama to help reduce the number of preventable child deaths, officials said.

State Health Officer Don Williamson said about one-third of all deaths involving Alabama children under 18 are considered preventable. Figures from the state health department show the number of preventable child deaths declined from 387 in 2000 to 278 in 2012, the most recent year where complete statistics are available.

Williamson said a 1997 state law created a child death review system to look at all unexplained or unexpected child deaths in every county and develop prevention strategies and recommendations. Many of those recommendations have become state law or health policy, Williamson said at a news conference Tuesday.

The child death review system gets the majority of its funding, about $250,000 a year, from the Children First Trust Fund. The trust fund receives money from the national settlement reached with tobacco companies in 1998 over the health costs of smoking, said Christy Mehaffey, executive director of the Children First Foundation.

Williamson and Melanie Bridgeforth, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Alabama’s Children, said Alabama’s declining rate of preventable child deaths is due, in part, to a graduated driver’s license for teens, a ban on texting while driving, better education about and the distribution of child car seats, better education about safe sleeping positions for babies and the distribution of cribs to low-income families.

Williamson said the biggest change has been in preventable vehicular deaths among children, from a peak of 130 in 2006 to 67 in 2012.

Health officials said they are seeing fewer deaths among babies from positional sleep issues, such as sleeping with others rather than in their own cribs. But they said changes in the ways those deaths are diagnosed make it difficult to compare numbers from the past.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.