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Births: FL worse than average

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3/19/2009 Florida Health News

Well, it's happened again: Florida scored worse than the national average, from a public-health standpoint, in all categories in a report on births for 2007. The state had a greater percentage of teen mothers than average and widened its lead over most other states in two categories -- births to unmarried women and the percentage of Caesarean births.

The only non-bad (can't call it good) news for Florida in the National Center for Health Statistics report came in three categories that, while worse than average, remained the same from 2006 to 2007, the years compared in the report: One was the teen birth rate, the others the percent of low birthweight and preterm infants.

Women younger than 20 had 10.9 percent of live births in Florida, compared with the national average of 10.5 percent. The percentage of low-birthweight babies in Florida remained at 8.7 percent, compared to the U.S. average of 8.2 percent; preterm births accounted for 13.8 percent, compared with 12.7 percent nationally.

Given that the rate of teen births went up for a second year in a row, public health officials worry that their campaigns against teen pregnancy are no longer working, as the Washington Post reports. And they aren't sure why, unless it's caused by the same thing that's increasing the share of births to unmarried women among all ages.

In Florida, 46.1 percent of live births were to unmarried women in 2007, up from 44.4. The national average for 2007 was 39.7, up from  38.5.

One of the most worrisome and puzzling statistics in the report is the relentless rise in the rate of births by Caesarean section.  Florida's C-section rate, which was already well above the national average, rose to 37.2 percent of live births, up from 36.1. The national average in 2007 was 31.8 percent.

Other studies of the growing rate of C-sections have said the increase is not caused by any change in the risk of medical emergencies but has been linked to elective C-sections -- women choosing surgery for the convenience of being able to schedule their delivery. The increase is not only adding to expenses, but also to risk.

C-sections present a small but real increase in risk of complications to the mother, studies have shown. And the trend in surgical births has been linked to an increase in preterm births. Even a few days' difference in the term of pregnancy appears to matter in the rate of newborn complications, such as immature lungs.

The report shows the number of births in Florida in 2007 was 239,143. 

--Contact Carol Gentry by e-mail or at 727-410-3266.