They're called "hot spots": four areas of the city where infant mortality rates far exceed those in other neighborhoods.

They're called "hot spots": four areas of the city where infant mortality rates far exceed those in other neighborhoods.

That presents challenges and opportunities for local health officials who hope to reduce infant mortality rates by 40 percent -- and cut the racial disparity in half -- over the next 10 years.

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University analyzed public health, social and economic data at the neighborhood level to identify the hot spots: Linden, the Near East Side, Hilltop/Franklinton and the South Side.

According to Columbus Public Health, of the Franklin County ZIP codes with at least 20 infant deaths from 2006-11, the highest infant mortality rate -- 20.3 -- was in 43211, the South Linden area. The lowest rate was 4.6 in 43026, the Hilliard area.

Sharon Davies, executive director at the Kirwan Institute, said it is a complicated issue that largely revolves around access to prenatal care, socioeconomic conditions, job opportunities and personal healthcare choices, such as smoking during pregnancy

"The neighborhoods that you're looking at that have been identified on multiple metrics at once in Franklin County are neighborhoods that are of compounded disadvantages," Davies said.

The 26-member Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force, formed in November by Columbus City Council President Andy Ginther, will meet over the next several months and present a full report in July. Meanwhile, City Council recently contributed $225,000 for the effort.

"Based on the hot-spots information, the task force already discussed that the final recommendations should be explicit about where we put interventions in place first and cultivate ownership in the community to sustain the improvements," said Dr. Teresa Long, commissioner of Columbus Public Health.

"We will also be hosting conversations, seeking input and making presentations in key areas to ensure neighborhoods are part of the conversation and we hear what is working, what needs to be improved and what they view as the cause behind the high infant mortality rates based on their personal experiences."

Davies said the improvements must be given constant, focused attention.

"These are compounded disadvantages that have built over long periods of time," she said. "We should at least start about this work with the realistic expectations that it will take targeted interventions toward these neighborhoods but sustained interventions."

The discussion also needs to move beyond specific health needs of individual mothers to the conditions in the neighborhood, such as public safety, quality of the schools and better employment prospects, Davies said.

"All of those things we know contribute to our daily health and the people in our households," she said. "Some of us unfortunately are living with chronic levels of stress. Some of these interventions are going to have to get at the social conditions around the lives of these mothers and reduce conditions that cause chronic stress."