COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's infant mortality rate declined slightly in 2013, though it continues to far exceed the national average, according to state health data released Monday.
Infant mortality is measured as deaths of live-born babies before their first birthdays. The three leading causes of such deaths in Ohio are prematurity or pre-term births, sleep-related deaths and birth defects.
While the number of infant deaths dropped to 1,024 in 2013 from 1,047 in 2012, Ohio has not seen a significant change in its overall infant mortality rate since 1997.
The 2013 numbers from the state's Department of Health show Ohio's overall infant mortality rate was 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012. The recent rate is 23 percent higher than the national rate.
The state's black infant mortality rate has decreased significantly from 1990 to 2013. But the new numbers continue to show that black infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants in Ohio.
Health officials said the latest figures do not capture the impact of state initiatives over the last few years that take aim at the problem. Such efforts include public awareness campaigns, smoking cessation programs and improved tracking to identify communities with the highest rates of infant mortality.
"We are making progress, but we all must do even more to save babies' lives," Rick Hodges, the state's health director, said in a statement. "Much has been done over the last two years and we are waiting for that data to be measured."
The Health Department has partnered with a national organization of city and county health departments' maternal and child health programs to improve birth outcomes in nine metropolitan areas of the state. Those areas account for 95 percent of the state's black infant deaths and 49 percent of its white infant deaths. The nine communities are Butler County; Canton/Stark County; Cincinnati; Columbus; Cleveland/Cuyahoga County; Youngstown/Mahoning County; Dayton/Montgomery County; Akron/Summit County; and Toledo/Lucas County.
Ohio's new two-year state budget seeks to focus resources on areas with the greatest need and better connect women to care in high-risk neighborhoods.
Health officials expect to release 2014 infant mortality data this fall.
2013 Ohio Infant Mortality Data: http://1.usa.gov/1VIYLC4