A third of the deaths of children in Arizona last year were preventable, according to a new study issued Tuesday.
The annual Child Fatality Review Report found that fewer youngsters died in 2008 than in 2007, with deaths down by 105 to 1,038. But it also found the deaths not spread evenly among various groups.
For example, 10 percent of the deaths were among African-Americans, twice their proportion of the population. Other minority groups also had death rates higher than their numbers would otherwise indicate.
As to causes, the report found that two-thirds of these were natural causes, from things like cancer. Premature births also are counted on the list.
But it concludes most of the balance of the deaths - 168 in accidents, 60 homicides and 35 suicides - were unnecessary.
With that in mind, members of the review teams came up with several recommendations for lawmakers and others.
One deals with what the report says are "unsafe sleep environments," which claimed the lives of 90 infants last year.
That includes parents who put infants on their stomachs or sides where they can smother. But the report also found that some youngsters died when allowed to go to sleep with adults.
"If a mother wants to breast feed in bed, the mattress needs to be firm and all materials need to be kept away from the baby's face so it can easily breathe," said Jeanette Shea, an assistant state health director.
Other recommendations were aimed at legislators.
Team members specifically want Arizona law changed so that police can stop and ticket motorists who are not wearing seat belts.
Existing law requires front-seat occupants to be belted. But it bars officers from issuing a citation unless the vehicle was stopped for some other reason.
Another proposal would require special booster seats for children.
Current law already mandates special child seats or carriers for anyone younger than 5. That often takes the form of a carrier that can be hooked to a seat belt, often with the child facing backward.
Once a child turns 5, though, the only law that applies is anyone younger than 18 has to be properly belted in the vehicle. Backers said car and truck seats and seat belts are not designed for anyone shorter, resulting in injuries when a vehicle is involved in an accident.
Legislation to make both changes has failed to gain approval.
The report also suggests increasing funding for Child Protective Services to reduce the load of caseworkers. But that proposal comes at a time when lawmakers are cutting budgets to balance a $2 billion deficit.
Another recommendation, this one requiring no change in law, urges the health department to launch a "preconception health awareness campaign" aimed at African-Americans to ensure pregnant women get proper prenatal care and prevent premature births.