TEEN BIRTH RATE: Down Slightly in 1998
The teen birth rate dropped 2% in 1998, continuing a seven-year decline, according to statistics released Tuesday by the CDC. The report, "Births and Deaths: Preliminary Data for 1998," states that the birth rate for teens ages 15-17 dropped 5% to a "record low" of 30.4 per 1,000 in 1998. Birth rates for Hispanic and black teens remain "disproportionately high, at 94 per 1,000 for Hispanics and 85 per 1,000 for blacks," but still dropped 4% and 3% respectively, from the 1997 statistics. Rates for Native Americans held steady at 72 per 1,000 births and birth rates for non-Hispanic whites and Asian/Pacific Island teenagers each fell 2% -- to 35 and 23 per 1,000, respectively. Finding the results "encouraging," CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan attributed the drop to "the result of a lot of very hard work with our partners at the federal, state and grassroots level." However, he continued, "we can't afford to stop our efforts now -- too many teens are still jeopardizing their futures" (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/6).
Infant Mortality Plateaus
Even as teen birth rates dropped, infant mortality remained "steady in 1998 after dropping for almost four decades," placing the U.S. 25th among countries worldwide. Harry Rosenberg of the National Center for Health Statistics said, "We're all perplexed by what's going on. We do have fluctuations in one year to the next in mortality. But this is certainly startling." Particularly "worrisome" are the mortality rates among black babies -- 14.1 die out of every 1,000 born, compared to 6 white babies out of 1,000 births. Researchers said that the "disparity relates to access to health care ... and that black parents are more likely to be poor and less likely to have higher education." Dr. David Paige, who studies child health at Johns Hopkins University, said, "Until we solve this problem, we're going to continue to have unacceptably high infant mortality rates in a very affluent country such as ours" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/6). The CDC report also indicated that an estimated 82% of women received prenatal care in their first trimester, a record-high level. Babies born to single women increased by one percent since 1997 to 44.3 per 1,000. The number of cesarean deliveries also increased from 20.8% in 1997 to 21.2% in 1998 (CDC release, 10/5). HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said that the "report confirms the many positive trends in America today. But it's important that we continue to work together to broaden our progress in disease prevention. This is particularly true in communities of color, which still suffer disproportionately from infant mortality and AIDS" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/6).