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Stark County's THRIVE Strives to Cut Infant Mortality

The state’s latest report on infant mortality shows an increase in the overall rate of children dying before they turn 1 – and a growing gap between the mortality rate for white and African-American babies. But as WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, the report also shows some hopeful signs as well.

In the most recent report, Stark County’s infant mortality rate went from more than eight deaths per 1,000 births in 2014 to less than five last year.

For the last three years, the Canton Health Department has been fighting the problem with efforts that include support groups for pregnant women to help steer off premature births, and donating cribs and swaddling clothes that make sleep-related deaths less likely.

Health Commissioner Jim Adams says Stark and other communities need to continue to explore solutions, including having what he acknowledges would be a tough talk about birth spacing.

“Mothers that have children very close together are at a much higher risk of preterm birth. And so these issues in the community -- to talk about appropriate birth spacing for moms -- is a conversation we still have yet to have, but one that I think we need to have to help with this prematurity issue."

Close to half of Ohio’s infant deaths are linked to premature births.

Adams says the research shows links between infant mortality and a range of issues, including incarcerating parents.

"If you think about far-reaching social policies that have a positive impact on infant mortality, we have to think about things like housing and jobs and income equality, paid time off for women and families and keeping families together and not locking people up for minor crimes.”

Stark County began its efforts three years ago. It’s one of four northeastern Ohio counties getting special state funding to combat infant mortality.    

M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.