The District's closely watched infant mortality rate edged upward in 2002, but city officials said yesterday that they found encouraging trends in the black community within the new data. The death rate for blacks less than a year old was the lowest ever recorded in the city -- 14.1 per 1,000 live births -- and marked the first time it was lower than the national rate for blacks, 14.5.
White and Latino infant deaths increased, though, causing the city's overall rate to rise. The District's overall infant mortality rate rose from 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 11.5 in 2002, the last year for which complete data are available.
The Health Department said the infant mortality rate had been on a downward trend since it peaked at 23.2 in 1988, a time of rampant drug use and violence in impoverished neighborhoods. The 2002 increase was the second time since 1994 that the rate did not decline.
Scientists consider infant mortality an important gauge of a community's overall health and well-being because a variety of social forces -- including poverty, education, pollution, housing, crime, access to health care and the strength of personal support systems for mothers -- contribute to the rate.
Since 2001, city officials and private groups have intensified efforts to promote prenatal care, prevent low-birth-weight babies and visit newborns' homes.
Yesterday, Interim Health Department Director Herbert R. Tillery said many private groups in the city are devoting substantial resources to reducing infant mortality. Cooperation with them will allow the city to move forward with initiatives without increasing the $5.9 million the Health Department will spend this year promoting nutrition, caring for 150 pregnant drug abusers, trying to preventing teenage pregnancy and visiting newborns at home, said Marilyn Seabrooks Myrdal, the city's maternal and child health officer.
Total infant deaths increased from 81 in 2001 to 86 in 2002. Officials said that reflected a similar uptick in the national rate, from 6.9 to 7 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Of the 86 deaths, 64 were black infants, 12 were white and one was Asian or Pacific Islander.
The number of white infants who died jumped sharply, from five in 2001 to 12 the next year. That infant death rate rose from 2.8 in 2001 to 6.6 in 2002 -- higher than the national white rate, 5.8 per 1,000 live births.
The District's Latino infant death rate rose from 4 per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 9 in 2002. Those rates include women, black or white, who identify themselves as Hispanic.
For years, Ward 8 has had one of the city's worst infant death rates, but the rate there declined in 2002, to 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births -- the best of any ward other than affluent and predominantly white Ward 3.
The report offered statistics that reveal major demographic trends, among them that the number of District residents born each year continued a steady decline from a record high of 21,686 in 1947. It was 10,614 in 1993, 7,621 in 2001 and 7,494 in 2002.
From 2001 to 2002, the report said, white births increased slightly, while black births declined by more than 200. Officials attributed that drop to a decline in teenage pregnancies.
The mothers of about 57 percent of District babies were unmarried. In Ward 3, only 4.9 percent were unmarried; in Ward 7, 81.3 percent were single.
The teenage rate fell from 13.3 percent in 2001 to 12.8 percent in 2002, the lowest ever recorded.
Of the 86 infant deaths in 2002, 12 were attributed to maternal complications of pregnancy; 10 to birth defects and genetic abnormalities; nine to complications of placenta, cord and membranes; six to prematurity or low birth weight; five to circulatory ailments; five to respiratory distress; four to sudden infant death syndrome; and 35 to other causes, including those related to social and economic factors.