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HANFORD — Teen pregnancy rates are decreasing across the state, including in the Central Valley, but premature births are still an issue for pregnant women in this region, according to a recent study.

California in general has seen an 11 percent decrease in teen births, according to a series of reports released by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno.

“This is a similar trend observed in each of the eight San Joaquin Valley counties,” Emanuel Alcala, report co-author and research associate with the institute, said in a released statement.

Findings from the report, “Individual and Neighborhood Characteristics: Adolescent Health in the San Joaquin Valley” show that although the Valley has some of the highest rates of teen birth in California, there has been a dramatic reduction in recent years, from an average of 43 per 1,000 births to 32 per 1,000 births.

According to the report, Kings County has an average of about 28 teen births per 1,000 births — higher than the state average of 19 per 1,000 births — which was the middle of the pack for all eight counties reported on. The Central Valley counties with the highest teen pregnancy rates are Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kern counties.

The report credits some of the reductions in these outcomes to teen pregnancy prevention programs, which are broadly viewed as cost-effective educational strategies.

“Efforts are being made to provide reproductive education in different settings to reach youth and families including schools, faith-based organizations, and within the local health department buildings,” the report states.

Despite the Valley’s strides in reducing teen pregnancies, there are still higher rates of premature births here compared to the rest of the state. The Central Valley has a 9.4 percent rate of premature births, compared to 8.8 percent statewide.

In particular, women of color with low education and prior preterm births, as well as those in communities with high diesel pollution and low economic opportunity, were at greatest risk for premature births, the report stated.

Dr. Thomas Enloe, chairman of the obstetrics department at Adventist Health in Hanford, said in an interview Friday that along with socio-economic status, there are many reasons for the high premature birth rate in the Valley.

Some of the more prominent reasons he mentioned were the high diabetes and obesity rates, and the methamphetamine or other drug use problems in the Central Valley.

“The main reason is just because of the high meth rate in the area,” Enloe said.

Babies born prematurely can have a number of problems, both at the time of birth and throughout their lives. Enloe said premature babies can have pulmonary problems at birth and suffer from asthma as they get older.

Enloe said a lot of the time, babies born prematurely play a lot of catch-up because they didn’t have the extra time to grow in the womb.

Despite the high premature birth rates, Enloe said there are a number of resources for prenatal care and good clinics in the area to take care of prematurely born babies. He said pediatricians have done a “tremendous” job ensuring positive outcomes for premature babies.

“We’re doing really well with improving survival rate and the long-term health of the babies,” Enloe said.

The California Endowment and the San Joaquin Valley Public Health Consortium commissioned the institute to produce an analysis of the current health landscape throughout the region using data from eight county health departments: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare.

“We selected three stages throughout the life course and focused on the most pressing health concerns within each phase of life,” Alcala said. “In turn, these health challenges reflect some of the greatest health burdens within the San Joaquin Valley region.”

These studies include data collected from 2009 to 2014 from the California Statewide Department of Public Health and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

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