For the second year in a row, California’s rate of premature births has increased. But according to new data, the trend is even more alarming in the San Joaquin Valley.
Across California, 8.6 percent of live births are premature, according to the health advocacy organization March of Dimes. That means they were born before 37 weeks of gestation. The group gave the state a B on its annual premature birth report card. Of the 15 counties ranked in the report card, Fresno County scored the worst, with a prematurity rate of over 10%. Both Fresno and Kern Counties earned a C.
Within these communities, however, the risk for prematurity is not shared equally.
"Our rates are very high in Fresno County, especially for our black, brown and Asian babies," says Sandra Flores, director of the Fresno County Preterm Birth Initiative. The University of California, San Francisco formed the initiative in 2016 to better understand the local causes and consequences of preterm births.
"It was that disparity that caught the UCSF people by surprise," Flores says. "They had no idea that our rates were that high by race and ethnicity."
Though not all preemies suffer complications, they're born with a higher risk of long-term health problems and chronic disease.
This is the third year in a row that the March of Dimes graded the Fresno area the lowest of all regions it studied in the state.