mahoning valley Survey highlights racial gap in infant death rate

Results will be basis for new programming

By Justin Dennis and Ed Runyan

Community health survey results released Thursday in Mahoning and Trumbull counties show infant mortality rates are far worse for blacks living in the Mahoning Valley.

In Trumbull County, the overall infant mortality rate was 8.1 per 1,000 live births, which is higher than the state average of 7.2.

But the rate for blacks in Trumbull County was nearly three times the rate for whites, according to results of the Trumbull County Health Status Assessment released at Kent State University at Trumbull.

The results of the report were discussed and explained in a three-hour presentation. The results will be discussed further and will be the basis for the Trumbull County Combined Health District to establish new programming and goals in the coming months.

Emily Golias of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, who presented the data, said she found the difference between a rate of 6.1 per 100,000 for whites and 18.1 for blacks “a large disparity.”

Frank Migliozzi, Trumbull County health commissioner, said the infant mortality “has to be a significant priority” for the Combined Health District.

“If that doesn’t shock the community, I don’t know what will,” Migliozzi said of the racial disparity.

In Mahoning County, the infant mortality rate between 2013 and 2017 was about four times higher – 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births for whites, compared to 16.4 for blacks – according to the county’s own Community Health Needs Assessment, presented to public officials Thursday afternoon at St. Christine Parish in Youngstown.

The death rate for black infants born in Youngstown is higher than for a child born in Iran – a claim made by Democratic 2020 presidential contender U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan during a CNN town hall Sunday and fact-checked by the Washington Post.

Patricia Sweeney, Mahoning County health commissioner, said Thursday county officials have been studying and trying to correct infant mortality rates in the county for years.

She said physical factors leading to those figures, such as the health of the mother, her delay between pregnancies – 18 months should be the minimum, she said – and premature births and low birth weight, the latter of which are exacerbated by diabetes, hypertension, obesity and smoking, shouldn’t downplay the socioeconomic or cultural factors that officials also reviewed Thursday.

“With African-American women who have lived in 400 years of racism, from slavery on to today … we have more African-American people incarcerated than any other nation in the world,” Sweeney said. “We have destroyed the family.”

Sweeney said residents’ social determinants such as adequate income or a safe residence and their living circumstances or general environment carry about half the total weight for county health outcomes, with behavioral choices and access to health care playing smaller roles.

One “theme across” the data presented Thursday is the vast disparity in health outcomes for people living on less than $25,000 a year, she said.

Of the 318 Mahoning County adults surveyed, 28 percent of those age 30 and younger said they were uninsured. Sixty-three percent of those respondents said they had a routine check-up in the past year, the lowest percentage among all age groups.

Trumbull’s data came from 419 returned written surveys from county homes. Golias’ organization has done such assessments for most of the counties in the northern half of the state.

Trumbull’s survey showed 38 percent of people who say they do not visit a dentist said the reason is cost. An additional 25 percent said the reason was fear and apprehension, pain and dislike of dental visits. Sixty-two percent said they had been to a dentist in the past year, below the state average of 68 percent.

Trumbull County’s population of obese, severely obese and morbidly obese is 40 percent, while the state average is 34 percent.

In Mahoning County, close to three-quarters of the population is considered overweight or obese.

Trumbull County adults have a higher rate of high blood pressure than the state average – 39 percent for Trumbull, 35 percent for the state; and high cholesterol – 40 percent for Trumbull and 33 percent for the state. The county’s rate of adult diabetes is 15 percent. The state rate is 11 percent.

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