Here’s the distressing truth: Ohio is not a healthy place to live. If we’re honest, we’ve known that for a while, but several recent reports make it harder to ignore.

The latest study to give us pause looked at mortality across the country and found that death rates in Ohio had increased by one of the highest jumps in the country — rising 21.6% in midlife mortality. The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in late November sounded the alarm as mortality increased and life expectancy declined for those from 25 to 64, who should be in the prime of their lives.

Add to that Ohio’s continuing struggles with high infant mortality and another new report highlighting a scary spike in the state’s suicide rates.

If there is reason for hope to reverse these startling trends, we are heartened at the recognition and ownership expressed by the Ohio Department of Health and its director, Dr. Amy Acton. She called the JAMA report on increasing mortality a "watershed moment."

Acton called Ohio’s poor showing "a kick in the gut to me, and I have seen this trend coming even in my classes at OSU when I taught on the subject."

The JAMA report looked at U.S. life expectancy since 1959, seeing it rise from 69.9 years to 78.9 years but begin to decline after 2014. The report sheds light on what is now a three-year trend of declining life expectancy rates in the United States through 2017.

Focusing on how many more people died than would have if the life expectancy rate had remained steady, JAMA calculated the difference as 33,307 "excess deaths" and found about a third occurred in just four states — Ohio, along with Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

It is not coincidence that the nation’s mortality rates spiked as deaths related to opioid addiction also were climbing — especially in those states that captured the larger share with Ohio.

We can take some comfort in indications from the state health department that opioid-related deaths have started falling, dropping 22% in 2009 from a high of 4,854 in 2017 to 3,764 in 2018. But the JAMA report cites additional health concerns as contributors to the overall rising mortality rates. Obesity, alcohol abuse and distracted driving due to cellphone use are other issues it cites.

Ohio’s high rate of adult tobacco use — 21% compared with the national rate of 17% — certainly should also be noted.

For babies and youth, the state has much work to do.

Acton said a state health department report in November found suicide is the leading cause of death among Ohio children from 10 to 14 and the second leading cause among those from 15 to 24. In those two groups from 2007 through 2018, death by suicide jumped an incomprehensible 56% to the point where one dies every 33 hours, Acton said.

We’re pleased to see a new $4.5 million grant from the Ohio Department of Medicaid and the state’s managed care plans awarded this month to CelebrateOne and a dozen other central Ohio organizations to reduce deaths of children before their first birthday.

Reversing trends to ensure that Ohioans live longer cannot happen while babies, children and young adults continue succumbing to preventable deaths.

We hope to one day look back and see that recognizing these problems at high levels marks the beginning of the necessary political will to finally and effectively improve Ohio’s health outcomes.

— The Columbus Dispatch