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2016 infant death rate increased in Lucas Co., statewide

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Lucas County's infant mortality rate increased in 2016, as did the state rate, according to a new report from the Ohio Department of Health.

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Although the rate of babies dying before their first birthdays in 2016 increased in Lucas County and statewide, local health officials say they are encouraged by a decrease in the black infant mortality rate. 

In Lucas County the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births was 7.3, up from 6.3 in 2015, according to a new report from the Ohio Department of Health. Statewide, the rate was 7.4, up slightly from 7.2 the previous year.

Infant mortality, defined as death in the first year, has been a persistent area of concern for state and local health officials. 

Health officials lauded a decrease in the death rate for black infants, who have long consistently fared worse than their white counterparts. For black babies, the rate was 14.2 in 2016 — a decrease compared with 16.8 in 2015.   

“We're seeing significantly lower rates for African-Americans than last year; that’s a big win for us,” said Carly Salamone, assistant director of Northwest Ohio Pathways HUB program, which operates under the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio. “Fewer African-American babies are being born premature. I think a lot of that speaks to the efforts in our community.”

The rate for white babies dying in Lucas County jumped from 1.6 in 2015 to 5.0 in 2016. Ms. Salamone said the 2015 number appears to be an anomaly, and the 2016 rate more closely aligns with the 7.5 and 6.4 rates for white babies in 2014 and and 2013, respectively. 

Premature birth, birth defects, and sleep-related causes are the top three causes of infant death in Ohio. Parents are encouraged to follow the “ABC’s” of safe sleep — placing an infant alone, on their back, and in a crib to sleep.

There were 22 percent fewer sleep-related infant deaths in 2016 in Ohio than in 2015, according to the state.

“While we have seen some progress in preventing sleep-related infant deaths, we still have a lot of work to do, particularly in the areas of premature births and racial disparities,” state Health Director Lance Himes said in a statement released with the state report. “That is why the state is investing millions of dollars in local initiatives that will help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays, particularly in high-risk communities and populations.” 

Despite closing the gap, there is still work to be done to make sure babies of all races have equal outcomes, Ms. Salamone said. 

“While the disparity isn't 10 times [as it was in 2015], it's still almost three and that's unacceptable,” she said. 

Out of the 41 babies who died last year in the county, 22 were black and 19 were white.  

Ms. Salamone said it is important to work with women to be healthy before and between pregnancies to make a long-term impact. Among the areas that still concern health officials is birth spacing, she said, particularly for black mothers. It is recommended that women wait 18 months after giving birth before becoming pregnant again. Births too close together bring higher risks for prematurity, she said. 

Celeste Smith, community and minority health supervisor at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, agreed there is more work to be done.

“We've got to do better on the prevention side and working with our young people to be healthy so when it's time when you want to have a baby, that your body is ready,” she said.

But bright spots in the report show there is hope, she added.

“Looking at the data, there are certainly opportunities for us to improve,” she said. “This is not just a health issue, it's a community issue and it's going to take all of us working together.”

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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