Hamilton County Infant Mortality Rate Remains 'Stubbornly High'

Mar 24, 2016

Cradle Cincinnati says it is making slow progress in bringing down Hamilton County's high infant mortality rate. Numbers released Thursday show an overall decline in the number of babies dying before their first birthdays but the 2015 death rate is higher than in 2014.

According to Cradle Cincinnati, 99 babies died in Hamilton County in 2015 before reaching their first birthday. That puts the rate at 9.0 deaths per every 1,000 births. The rate was 8.9 in 2014 and 8.84 in 2013. The average from 2001 to 2010 was 10.7.

(Read the 2015 report below)

While the numbers appear to show improvement, they still put Hamilton County well above the national rate of 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births.

"We've leveled out over the past two years, and we are still at a place where we're among the very worst communities in the country," says Cradle Cincinnati Executive Director Ryan Adcock.

Three Trends

Pre-term births, sleep related deaths, and birth defects continue to be the three leading causes of high infant mortality rates.

From the Cradle Cincinnati report:

TREND 1: Preterm birth, the leading cause of infant death, fell to its lowest rate in more than a decade at 10.6%. That’s 55 fewer babies born dangerously early in 2015 compared to the previous 5 years. Short pregnancy spacing and maternal smoking, some of the key causes of preterm birth also decreased in 2015. As a result, fewer babies died from preterm birth related causes than in previous years.

TREND 2: Hamilton County saw a small increase in the number of babies who died from birth defects compared to the 2011-2014 average. From 2011-2014, Hamilton County lost an average of 16 babies to fatal birth defects. In 2015, we lost 20 babies to this cause. If we were at the national average, we would lose 11 babies to birth defects each year. Fatal cardiac anomalies have been the leading defect that contributes to infant death in Hamilton County.

TREND 3: Sleep-related infant deaths dropped sharply in 2014, but rose again in 2015. The biggest change in the past year was a steep rise in the number of sleep-related infant deaths, which doubled in 2015, after having fallen to an all-time low of just 7 in 2014.

Why Are The Numbers Here So High?

Adcock says the city's high child poverty rate and poor maternal health are two overarching factors contributing to the high infant mortality rate.

"Cincinnati is a great city. It's a place a lot of us are really proud to call home, but it also has a lot of real challenges," says Adcock. "We have a very high child poverty rate. We're ranked among the very lowest in the nation in terms of overall health. We have educational challenges, and all these things create a system that it turns out isn't the healthiest place for babies to be born."

Note: Only babies born to mothers with Hamilton County addresses are counted in the agency's report. This means people from outside the county seeking special treatment at local hospitals such as Cincinnati Children's do not affect the county's numbers.

Cincinnati/Hamilton County Aren't Alone

Ohio in general ranks 45th in the nation when it comes to infant mortality, with only two states coming in behind Ohio in terms of deaths of African American babies and Hispanic babies.

Earlier this week a state commission studying the problem released a series of 56 recommendations. They follow four themes: improving data collection, building on proven solutions, health system improvements, and addressing social and environmental factors that affect the mother or baby's health.

Click here to read the full report.

Among the recommendations – boosting funds to health programs, allowing pharmacists to administer injectable birth control, banning the sale of crib bumpers, and hiking the tax on cigarettes. Sen. Shannon Jones (R-Springboro) says the proposed tax hike comes from Gov. John Kasich’s budget last year, which showed a $600 cost per Medicaid recipient was related to smoking.

“So if we can deal with the smoking issue, there is nothing that would have a more dramatic impact on the costs of Medicaid,” Jones says.

The recommendations also include banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. 

Here is the 2015 Cradle Cincinnati report:

Cradle Cincinnati: Our Community, Our Commitment

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler contributed to this report.