Improve mortality rate

It appears the Buckeye State and its residents need to do more to protect the youngest Ohioans.

In a report released last week, the Ohio Health Department said the number of infant deaths increased slightly in 2016 compared with the previous year. The report states that 1,024 babies died before their first birthdays in Ohio last year. That’s 19 more deaths than in 2015. And this is despite the good news that the number of sleep-related infant deaths actually declined from 150 in 2015 to 117 in 2016.

Ohio’s target is to achieve fewer than 6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in every racial and ethnic group, according to the report. Ohio’s All Races Infant Mortality Rate was 7.4 per 1,000 in 2016, so it is clear more work needs to be done. Black infants are still dying at nearly three times the rate as white infants, although Ohio’s overall infant mortality rates have been trending downward significantly since at least 1990.

The good news for our region is that the infant mortality rates for Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and Monroe counties are not high enough to be considered stable and reliably reported, according to the OHD. In 2016, there were two infant deaths in Belmont County; three in Harrison; nine in Jefferson; and zero in Monroe. The majority of infant deaths seem to occur in counties with large urban populations.

But babies in every county in the state deserve the chance to live healthy and prosperous lives. So, what can be done to improve the infant mortality rate across Ohio?

The leading causes of infant death in the Buckeye State, according to the report, are related to premature birth. The most effective way to prevent those conditions is to encourage mothers to improve their own health before and during pregnancy. Community programs provided by local hospitals and health departments can help achieve that, by encouraging mothers-to-be to stop smoking, eat a healthy diet and get regular pre-natal care. Friends and family members can also encourage expectant mothers to take those steps and then support them in their efforts.