State ranks in bottom 10 states in two child health categories

Wednesday, February 6th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Teenage mothers accounted for 16.3 percent of the births in Oklahoma in 1999, well above the national average and near the bottom in one of the categories of a child health survey released Tuesday.

Oklahoma ranked No. 47 in the teenage birth category among the 50 states, according to the report funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private research organization focusing on children.

The report also said 23 percent of the births in Oklahoma were to mothers with less than 12 years of education. The state placed No. 42 in this category. The national study used eight criteria to gauge early child development.

Oklahoma also ranked No. 39 for its 4.2 percent of births to mothers receiving late or no prenatal care and No. 38 for its 17.9 percent of births to mothers who smoked during pregnancy.

``There aren't many surprises here,'' said Sharon Rodine, project director for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. ``This report shows in many ways that it's not healthy to be a baby born in Oklahoma.''

Study co-author Richard Wertheimer of the nonprofit research center, Child Trends, said Oklahoma's rankings are ``cause for concern,'' but said there has been improvement in some areas.

``I think the message has gotten out in the state that smoking while you are pregnant is not good and that getting early prenatal care and education is important,'' he said.

Teen births declined in Oklahoma from 17 percent to 16 percent between 1997 and 1999, but that total is still higher than the 1999 U.S. average of 12 percent. Births to women receiving late or no prenatal care also declined, slipping from 5.1 percent to 4.2 percent.

``It's a concern to me that we have such a high percentage of women in the state who smoke during pregnancy and who are teen mothers,'' said Dr. Edd Rhoades, deputy commissioner of family health services for the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Rhoades cited progress in the past decade in providing access to prenatal care, but said a tightening state budget and talk of Medicaid cuts could pose a challenge to providing those services in the future.

``It is imperative to prioritize our health care service to provide access to this type of care,'' Rhoades said.

Oklahoma also ranked:

-- No. 31 for its 20.6 percent of teen births to women who were already mothers

_ No. 30 for its 12 percent of pre-term births.

-- No. 29 for its 33.2 percent of births to unmarried women.

_ No. 21 for its 7.4 percent of low-birthweight births.

``The good news is that there are a lot of people across the state who are connecting the dots,'' Rodine said. ``They realize that here isn't where we want to be and are getting more serious about these issues.''