America's large cities showed improvements on some birth-related measures during the prosperous 1990s, according to two new reports released today. With a specific focus on factors like the percentage of mothers who smoked during pregnancy and whether women received late or no prenatal care, the reports were compiled by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Child Trends rganization and KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable group that studies child welfare issues.
Among the positive findings, like the 2 percent drop nationally in births to teens who have already had a child, researchers also say that babies born in big cities continued to start life at a greater disadvantage than those born elsewhere in the U.S.
Child Trends' Carol Emig downplayed the evidence that cities are lagging a bit behind. "The public is used to thinking of large cities as places where progress doesn't happen, but we found substantial progress on two measures--the first is a drop in the percentage of births to moms who smoked during pregnancy. Cities also outperformed the nation with a decline in the percentage of births to women who received late or no prenatal care," she says.
Emig says she hopes the reports will "stimulate real discussion of where the 'weak spots' are for states and will help pinpoint particular birth measures that need improving. Policymakers should ask, 'Where did I not do as well as the nation as a whole?'" and may think about going to visit a state that has seen some success in a program that addresses an issue like teen pregnancy, she says.
Lawmakers alone, however, cannot solve the birth-related problems outlined in the reports. "Improving birth outcomes across the board is going to take involvement from public policy, individuals who make personal choices and the private sector. We can't just leave it to one sector or group that makes individual choices," Emig says.