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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
Maternal and Child Health

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Healthy Start

The Healthy Start program is an initiative mandated to reduce the rate of infant mortality and improve perinatal outcomes through grants to project areas with high annual rates of infant mortality.  The program began in 1991 with grants to 15 communities with infant mortality rates 1.5 to 2.5 times the national average.  In 2010, 104 Healthy Start projects were providing services in 38 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  

Healthy Start projects address the significant disparities in the health of mothers and babies experienced by racial and ethnic minorities in communities that face many challenges, including inadequate access to care and limited funding. The infant mortality rate in African American women, for example, was twice the national average in 2005.  All Healthy Start projects provide the following core services: direct outreach and client recruitment, health education, case management, depression screening and referral, and interconceptional care services to for all participants.

Healthy Start is successful in reducing infant mortality in the Nation’s highest risk populations for adverse outcomes.  In contrast to the overall national infant mortality of 6.7 in 2006, the infant mortality rate for Healthy Start participants was 5.7.  In 2007, the national infant mortality rate rose slightly to 6.8 according to preliminary statistics, while the infant mortality rate for Healthy Start participants dropped to 5.1.

Today, through a lifespan approach, Healthy Start aims to reduce disparities in access and utilization of health services, improve the quality of the local health care system, empower women and their families, and increase consumer and community voices and participation in health care decisions.

The Healthy Start Way

Healthy Start grantees have great flexibility implementing their programs, but share characteristics that are proven to increase success. Healthy Start programs are

  • Community-driven. They use community/peer outreach workers, home visiting and other techniques that ensure their efforts are relevant and sensitive to the realities of life for the women and families they serve. Every Healthy Start project develops a consortium of residents, clients, medical providers, social service agencies and members of the faith and business communities. 
  • Service-focused. They provide medical care, help at-risk women meet their basic human needs, such as food and housing, and empower their participants to advocate for themselves. 
  • Effective. Healthy Start programs report serving 35,620 pregnant women who delivered 43,809 babies, 86 percent of whom were normal birthweight (2,500 grams or approximately 5 pounds or more) in 2008. They also served 29,552 at-risk women before or after pregnancy, 39,684 infants and children, and 7,076 men.

A clinician with a mother and infant patient

Key Resources
Find Prenatal ServicesFind Prenatal Services
En espanol 800-504-7081
Data & Statistics

Characteristics of Program Participants: data on race and ethnicity, income, entry into prenatal care of pregnant women;  live births;  and other health measures of participating women, infants, children and men. 

Number Receiving Risk Reduction/Prevention Services: data on services provided to pregnant women, women, and infants and children.

Healthy Start Major Services: data on direct health care, enabling services, population-based services and infrastructure building.