Newswise — Despite its preventable nature, infant mortality is a major healthcare problem in the United States, where mortality rates are significantly higher than most other developed nations. Now, a new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University shows that targeted spending on public health activities specifically related to infant health significantly reduces infant mortality.

The study, conducted by FAU College of Business faculty members Patrick Bernet, Ph.D., Gulcin Gumus, Ph.D., and Sharmila Vishwasrao, Ph.D., and recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, estimates that a 10 percent increase in infant-related spending leads to a 2.07 percent decrease in infant mortality rates in Florida. Black infant mortality rates are even more responsive to targeted public health spending, falling by 4.04 percent for each 10 percent increase in targeted spending.

The study focused on public health expenditures in Florida, where the infant mortality rate is even higher than the national average, with 7.37 infant deaths per 1,000 live births during 2001-2014. The Florida Department of Health collected the data during those years on spending, staffing and other operating information annually, by county and by program.

Key to the study’s findings is the use of disaggregated data. Florida is one of very few states in the nation to keep such data, which breaks down spending in individual programs. Past studies have looked at total spending and generally showed that public health spending is not very effective at impacting problems like infant mortality.

“Once you disaggregate the data to the amount that’s actually being spent on the problem we can show that it does reduce infant mortality,” said Vishwasrao, an associate professor in FAU’s Department of Economics. “And the effect is really big for black children. So, for minority children in particular, public health expenditures are useful because I think they’re the ones who don’t necessarily have the same access to the private sources of health care that other people do.”

The researchers examined both the effectiveness of total public health spending and the impact of targeted spending on infant-related programs, including the Maternal Health and Improved Pregnancy Outcomes (IPO) program, the Healthy Start program and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

The researchers believe these findings can inform public health resource allocation decisions, identifying specific positive outcomes generated by infant-specific programs, and further highlighting those regions and populations that benefit the most. Ultimately, their study aims to pave the way to identify which public health programs impact population health and how existing resources might be better allocated to achieve the greatest improvements. The researchers plan to expand their research to maternal mortality for an upcoming study.

“What’s surprising is in this day and age in the United States we’re talking about rates of infant mortality that are significantly higher than any other developed country, and maternal mortality that’s off the charts, and the problem is only getting worse in the last decade,” said Gumus, an associate professor in health administration in FAU’s Department of Management Programs. “We have to address these problems. We’re not proposing public health spending as the only means to do that, but clearly it could be one of the very effective ways to decrease these alarming mortality rates.”

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About Florida Atlantic University Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit