‘Best Babies Zone’ Reaches Community Members in Wilkinsburg, PA

May 19, 2021
Healthy Babies Zone in Wilkinsburg PA

Wilkinsburg, a borough just shy of 16,000 residents in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, is a community known for the wonderful spirit of its residents.

But Wilkinsburg also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, with a striking difference in mortality rates for Black (14.1) and white (11.3) babies. And, 6.4% of children had elevated blood lead levels as estimated by the Allegheny Health Department between 2011 and 2013.

More than 80% of Wilkinsburg homes were built before 1978, when lead was removed from residential paint, which is one factor contributing to elevated lead levels in our babies and children. Community partners began working across sectors to ensure that every baby is born into a healthy community that enables them to thrive and reach their full potential using an evidence-based model called the Best Babies Zone.

The Best Babies Zone engages the Wilkinsburg community across multiple sectors that align with the social determinants of health, streamlining collaboration of local health-service providers and community support services and serving as a catalyst for community-wide change. We’ve named our version “Healthy Babies Zone Wilkinsburg.” 

Bright Cities and the Mayors Innovation Project provided funding to expand our Healthy Babies Zone Wilkinsburg. We linked our Fresh Market – a market that provides free, fresh produce to community members – to a digital public education campaign called the “Hello Fresh Market” (both are parts of the Healthy Babies Zone). This allowed us to leverage the reach of the Fresh Market to connect families with resources and education to prevent neurotoxic exposures and improve children’s health.

The program is working, both to keep babies safe and to educate parents. While shopping at the Fresh Market, one Wilkinsburg resident said, "I didn't know any of this! I'm so happy that I now know how to protect my baby from lead poisoning." 

We hope that our Healthy Babies Zone work will help to create long term health improvements and increased civic engagement. But this won’t happen overnight. In the short term, we expect that this project will engage nearly 500 community members. Of these, we expect at least 30% will have more knowledge about simple and cost-effective means to protect their babies’ brain development.

Our Mayor Marita Garrett said, “Let’s get real about actually doing the work, and work together to get it done to make our communities more equitable and healthy.” Healthy Babies Zone Wilkinsburg is just one way we are doing that.


Interested in learning more about this project? Contact Demia Horsley, MPH, CLC, CD(DONA), LCCE, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Healthy Start Inc., Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, at dhorsley@hsipgh.org.

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.