Infant Deaths Rise in Ohio, Widening White-Black Gap

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state saw an uptick in its infant mortality rate last year, with black babies dying at a rate approaching three times that of whites, new data show.

Ohio’s overall infant mortality rate rose to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births last year, according to new numbers released November 16 by the Ohio Department of Health. That’s up from a rate of 6.8 deaths the year before, when the nation’s rate was 5.8 deaths.

The three leading causes of infant death in Ohio continued to be prematurity, sleep-related issues and birth defects, the state reported.

The overall number of babies who died last year before their first birthdays also increased. The state saw 1,005 infant deaths last year, compared with 955 the year before.

Ohio’s infant mortality rate has been among the worst in the nation.

The state’s medical director, Dr. Mary DiOrio, said the latest figures may not reflect recent community initiatives aimed at tackling the problem. She noted that the state’s rate has been trending downward for the past 10 years.

Still, the bump in the rate and the widening gap between white and black infant deaths remains a concern, DiOrio said.
“We need to do even more than we are doing to decrease the rate and to decrease the disparity,” she said. “We need to continue to address this issue aggressively and with a comprehensive approach.”

The state’s white infant mortality rate ticked up from 5.3 deaths per 1,000 births to 5.5 deaths, and the black infant mortality rate climbed from 14.3 to 15.1.

Ohio hopes to reach an infant mortality rate of 6 or lower in every ethnicity group by 2020.

The data showed some bright spots in the Columbus and Canton areas, which saw declines in their infant mortality rates, particularly among black babies.

The state has been working with hospitals, community groups, local health departments and others in nine urban areas with high rates of infant deaths. Such partnerships seek to address factors that could lead to unhealthy pregnancies, such as a lack of access to food, health care, stable housing, transportation and other support.

Those nine high-risk areas are Cleveland/Cuyahoga County; Columbus/Franklin County; Cincinnati/Hamilton County; Dayton/Montgomery County; Toledo/Lucas County; Canton/Stark County; Akron/Summit County; Youngstown/Mahoning County; and Butler County.

Ohio’s health department recently launched a $500,000 public awareness campaign in the nine parts of the state to promote safe-sleep practices. The effort includes TV and radio ads, billboards and digital ads on social media and websites.
State lawmakers are hearing testimony this week on a bill that would ban the sale of crib bumpers, boost safe-sleep education to parents and infant caregivers in high-risk areas, and bolster the data shared and collected on infant births and deaths, among other provisions.

“We can’t keep doing the same things and think we’re going to get better results,” said state Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”