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preterm birth

Kerry Klein / KVPR

As the holidays approach, you may be contemplating the toys you’ll be getting for the children in your life or donating to kids in need. Well, this month, one woman in Visalia is holding a toy drive, but for parents—sort of. She’s working to donate toys to families affected by one of the San Joaquin Valley’s most concerning health trends.

Kerry Klein / KVPR

A few weeks ago, we reported that the premature birth rate in the San Joaquin Valley is rising, and that it’s especially high in Fresno County. The numbers are concerning because premature babies are born with a higher risk of health complications like breathing difficulties, heart problems and chronic disease. Decades of work have proven preterm births are tough to prevent, but a new research initiative appears to be up for the challenge. This story begins, though, in a Fresno living room, where a mother and son enjoy some quiet time together.

Flickr user Robert Valencia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.

VINOTHCHANDAR VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

Health organizations in Fresno County today announced a new initiative to reduce premature births. 

Right now, 11.1 percent of births in the county occur earlier than 37 weeks—that‘s far more than the state average of 8.3 percent. The new initiative, a collaboration between Fresno State, UC San Francisco, Fresno County and other groups and agencies, endeavors to reduce that to only 7 percent by the year 2025.

Sandra Flores of Fresno State is the director of the initiative.

Rebecca Plevin / Valley Public Radio

California has reduced its premature birth rate. The rate has dropped to 9.6 percent, earning the state an A on the March of Dimes annual report card for the first time.

"But unfortunately in the Central Valley, we’re still at a grade of C, although we’re trending downward on pre-term birth rates, as the state is," Gail Newel, director of the Fresno County Department of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, said at a press conference this morning.