California's infant mortality rate reached a new low of 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2009, according to Ron Chapman, director of the state Department of Public Health, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.
The previous low was reached in 2006, when the infant mortality rate was five deaths per 1,000 live births.
Public health officials attributed the lower mortality rate to pregnant women making better health choices, such as avoiding alcohol and tobacco. However, officials said more data are needed to determine whether the decreased rate reflects a long-term trend.
Officials noted that ethnic and racial disparities persist.
According to Chapman, the infant mortality rate for blacks in California declined from 12.1 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 10.6 per 1,000 live births in 2009 (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/20).
California's Birth Rate Falls
In related news, the overall birth rate in California has fallen to its lowest point since 1935, during the Great Depression.
According to DPH data, about 512,000 infants were born in California last year, down by 3% from 2009 and by 10% from 2007. The number of infants born translates to 13.7 births per 1,000 residents.
John Malson -- acting chief of the state Department of Finance's demographic research unit -- said that last year, women in California gave birth at a rate that would produce fewer than two births each over their lifetimes.
The low birth rate could be an indication that families are deciding not to have children because of difficult financial situations (Reese, Sacramento Bee, 10/20).