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UC Berkeley Public Health Best Babies Zone Initiative Welcomes Three New Communities

News for 11.13.17
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Berkeley, CA November 13, 2017 -

UC Berkeley Public Health Best Babies Zone Initiative welcomes three new communities to the movement to reduce racial inequities in infant mortality

Berkeley, California (November 13, 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: Milwaukee, WI; New York City (Harlem), NY; and Cleveland, OH. These Cohort 3 Zones will join the six Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 Zones in this place-based, multi-sector initiative to reduce racial inequities in infant mortality by mobilizing community residents and organizational partners to address the social and structural determinants of health.

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. While important, clinical interventions like prenatal care have not been enough to reduce this gap. There is growing recognition that factors such as economic stability, educational opportunity, chronic exposure to stress, and racism all play a critical role in these inequities.

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. In 2016, thanks to a three-year, $1.4M grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, three Cohort 2 Zones joined the Initiative: Indianapolis, IN; Kalamazoo, MI; and Portland, OR. This funding also allowed for the development of the BBZ Technical Assistance Center, which provides targeted support, product development, and thought partnership to the Zones. With Cohort 3, the BBZ Technical Assistance Center will continue to apply lessons learned from the pilot Zones to support these communities in applying the four foundational strategies of the BBZ approach: place-based focus, multi-sector collaboration, community-driven action, and supporting social movements.

“Each of the new Zones is uniquely positioned to advance the BBZ vision that all babies are born healthy, in communities that enable them to thrive and reach their full potential,” said BBZ Initiative Principal Investigator, Dr. Cheri Pies. “We are delighted to welcome the new Zones into our robust Learning Community and excited to learn with them as they work to address the structural determinants of health and racial inequities in birth outcomes in their communities.”

Each new Cohort 3 Zone brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and passion to their work to reduce racial inequities in birth outcomes:

  • Cleveland, OH: The BBZ in Cleveland will focus on the Hough Neighborhood, one of Cleveland’s oldest neighborhoods on the city’s east side. The history of Hough reflects the impact of systemic racism and many of the social determinants of well-being. In this predominantly Black neighborhood, the infant mortality rate is 22.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The Cleveland BBZ—led by Birthing Beautiful Communities, Neighborhood Connections, and the Greater University Circle Community Health Initiative—will align multi-sector partners to address the social determinants of health that are inequitably affecting Black families in the Hough neighborhood.
  • Milwaukee, WI: The BBZ in Milwaukee will focus on the Westlawn neighborhood, located on the city’s northwest side. In the 1970s, the Westlawn neighborhood was hit hard by Milwaukee’s loss of industry jobs and continues to experience limited economic opportunity. Babies in the Westlawn zip code die at rates that are 25% higher than the rest of the city (11.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared to an infant mortality rate of 9 for the city). The Milwaukee BBZ, led by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and the Mayor’s Office, will leverage the momentum of the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families and the Westlawn Choice Neighborhood Initiative to achieve community-level environmental change and reduce inequities in birth outcomes in the Westlawn neighborhood.
  • New York, NY: The BBZ in New York City will focus on Central Harlem—a vibrant community that has experienced redlining from the 1930s to the late 1960s, urban decay and crime, and recent gentrification. The neighborhood has one of the highest low birth weight rates in New York City, a high maternal mortality rate, and an infant mortality rate of 8.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The Harlem BBZ, led by Greater Harlem Healthy Start within the Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership, will focus on reducing racial inequities in Central Harlem by addressing the social, structural, and economic determinants of health.

By facilitating a learning community among all the Zones, the BBZ Technical Assistance Center will support shared learning to assist these new Zones as they engage residents around the issue of infant mortality and develop cross-sector partnerships and strategies that ensure that every baby has the best chance in life. For more information about Best Babies Zone Initiative, please visit

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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