MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s infant mortality rate has increased based on 2016 data, state health officials said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health, in a news release Thursday, said the rate of 9.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 is the highest since 2008. That represents the deaths of 537 infants who did not reach 1 year of age. There were 59,090 live births that year.

“Our infant mortality rate is troubling and disheartening and trending in the wrong direction. Challenges include ensuring mothers have access to health care before, during, and after pregnancy, reducing premature births, the opioid epidemic, and addressing persistent racial disparities,” acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said.

The state said the mortality rate for black infants was more than twice that of white infants. The 2016 black mortality rate was 15.1 per 1,000, a slight decrease from the 2015 rate of 15.3. For white mothers, infant mortality increased from a record low of 5.2 in 2015 to 6.5 in 2016.

The top three leading causes of infant death remain the same: congenital malformation, premature births, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Harris said some of the strategies they plan to implement to reduce those numbers include reducing tobacco use among women of childbearing age, encouraging women to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and becoming pregnant again and continuing safe sleep education efforts.

The percent of preterm births — those born before 37 weeks gestation — increased in 2016 as well, from 11.7 percent to 12 percent, while the percent of low birth weight infants in 2016 declined slightly from 10.4 in 2015 to 10.3.

On a positive note, as seen nationally, the percent of birth to teenagers in Alabama continues to trend downward to its lowest ever recorded of 7.7 percent in 2016.