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Berkeley Public Health Best Babies Zone Initiative brings infant mortality prevention strategy to three more communities

News for 03.23.17
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Berkeley, California (March 23, 2017) –

The Best Babies Zone Initiative (BBZ) at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health announced today that it will expand to three new communities: Indianapolis, IN; Kalamazoo, MI; and Portland, OR. These three new zones will join the three pilot zones in this place-based, multi-sector initiative to reduce disparities in infant mortality and birth outcomes by mobilizing community residents and organizational partners to address the social and economic determinants of health. This expansion of the BBZ Initiative is made possible by a three-year, $1.4M grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, received in 2016.

Despite recent declines in national infant mortality rates, African American babies are still twice as likely to die in their first year of life compared to white babies. Clinical interventions like prenatal care are not enough to reduce this gap, and there is growing recognition that factors such as economic stability, educational opportunity, chronic exposure to stress, and racism play a critical role in these disparities.

In 2012, with an initial $2.75M grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the BBZ Initiative launched three Cohort 1 zones to address inequities in birth outcomes in Cincinnati, OH; New Orleans, LA; and Oakland, CA. Over the past 5 years, these zones have piloted the BBZ approach to addressing the social determinates of health and eliminating racial inequities in birth outcomes. With current funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the BBZ Initiative has also become a Technical Assistance Center, with the aim of disseminating the lessons learned from the pilot zones and supporting new zones and other initiatives in the implementation of the BBZ approach.

“We’re delighted to bring on this new cohort of zones.” said Dr. Cheri Pies, clinical professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and Principal Investigator of the BBZ. “Each new zone brings a unique set of multi-sector partners and community engagement expertise to this critical work of improving neighborhood conditions so that all children and families can thrive.”

In the three new zones, organizations and residents have begun working together within small neighborhoods to address the social determinants of health. Each community is unique in the assets it brings to improving birth outcomes through a place-based effort:

  • Indianapolis, IN: This collaborative is co-lead by the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and the John Boner Neighborhood Center. This zone—the Near Eastside of Indianapolis—has a community-driven ‘quality of life’ plan as a core focus of community redevelopment efforts.
  • Kalamazoo, MI: While the city overall has seen a precipitous drop in the rate of infant death, African American infants are still four times more likely to die before their first birthday than their White neighbors. The collaborative known as Cradle Kalamazoo will lead the effort to address issues of residential segregation, poverty, access to education, and other social determinants of health inequity. Their zone is located in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood—which has a strong faith-based community and a recent focus on economic development.
  • Portland, OR: Recognizing that quality affordable housing is a form of health promotion, BBZ has partnered with the Revitalize Outer Southeast (ROSE) Community Development Corporation to support their Baby Booster Initiative (BBI). BBI focuses on reducing low-birthweight babies and infant mortality through community organizing, increasing the supply of affordable housing for families with young children, and providing “First Thousand Days” resources to pregnant women. Their zone—the Lents and Jade districts—is home to a strong network of cultural groups serving children, youth, and families.

By facilitating a learning community among the zones, the BBZ Technical Assistance Center supports shared learning to assist zones as they engage residents around the issue of infant mortality and develop cross-sector partnerships and programs that ensure that every baby has the best chance in life.

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health serves as the lead agency for the BBZ Initiative. Major national partners include the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP), CityMatCH, the National Healthy Start Association, and a team of expert consultants.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. For more information, visit

About the UC Berkeley School of Public Health: The first school of public health west of the Mississippi, the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health was founded in 1943 on the Berkeley campus. It is one of 50 schools accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. The UC Berkeley School of Public Health improves population health, especially for the most vulnerable, through radical collaborations to meet health needs and achieve health equity, preeminent education that challenges convention and develops diverse leaders, and transformational research on the major public health threats and opportunities of today and tomorrow. For more information, visit

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