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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's infant mortality rate dropped slightly last year, though the rate for black babies was nearly three times that of whites, according to new state figures released Friday.
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 preterm births, sleep-related deaths and birth defects.
Data released Friday from the Ohio Department of Health shows the state's overall infant mortality rate ticked down to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014, compared with 7.4 deaths in 2013. But last year's rate for black babies increased to 14.3, significantly topping the 5.3 rate for white babies in 2014.
Ohio infant mortality rate has been among the worst in the nation and exceeds last year's U.S. rate of 6.0.
Ohio health officials say they are concerned about the continuation of the gap and cite recent initiatives to help better target the problem.
"We have to address it," Dr. Mary DiOrio, the state health department's medical director, said in interview. "We can't continue to have this disparity."
The state has been working with hospitals, community groups, local health departments and others in nine urban areas where high rates of infant deaths are being reported. Those partners seek to address issues that high-risk groups are facing, such as access to food, health care, transportation and social support.
DiOrio said those new efforts are not yet reflected in the data, but she expects them to bring the rates down.
DiOrio said the overall trends reported Friday do show the state is moving in the right direction.
The number of infant deaths last year in Ohio dropped to 955 — which, officials say, marks the first time Ohio had fewer than 1,000 infant deaths in a year since deaths were registered beginning in 1939.
2014 Ohio Infant Mortality Data: http://1.usa.gov/1Qy18qB