State data: Black babies more than 2.5 times likely to die before first birthday than whites

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In 2018, 938 Ohio babies died before their first birthday.

Forty percent of them didn’t make it a day.

Black babies died at a rate between 2.5 to three times more frequently than white babies.

These are just some of the findings from the Ohio Department of Health’s 2018 Infant Mortality Annual Report.

There are some bright spots. In 2018, the infant mortality rate fell to 6.9% from 7.2% (982 babies) the year prior. In 2016, the infant mortality rate was 7.4% (1,024 babies).

Likewise, the mortality rate among black babies fell to 13.9% in 2018 from 15.6 the year prior.

Nonetheless, even the good news underscores a sobering sociological reality: racial and social inequities with lethal human consequences stubbornly persist.

“Despite seeing gains in the overall and white infant mortality rates, there has been no significant improvement in the black infant mortality rate in the past 10 years,” the report states.

Nine Ohio counties and metro areas accounted for about two-thirds of all the infant deaths, including 90% of black baby deaths. They are Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark and Summit counties.

About 36% of infants who died were born to first time mothers, indicating the need for further efforts to target first-time mothers, the report states.

A news release from ODH states local teams are working to curb the rates, including by using “neighborhood navigators” to identify pregnant women at risk for a poor birth outcome and connect them with health care services.

The report states that preventable risk factors for infant deaths were common. Of deceased infants:

  • Two in five whose mothers had a prior birth were conceived earlier than is recommended
  • More than one-third were born to mothers who received no first trimester prenatal care
  • Twenty percent had a mother who smoked at the beginning of pregnancy
  • About 1 in 10 were born to a teenage mother

Gov. Mike DeWine issued a statement with the news release.

“While there are indications of promising progress, there is much more that we must do to help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays, particularly African-American infants given that the black infant mortality rate hasn’t changed significantly since 2009,” he said.