Data Show Low-Birthweight Rate Declining

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by Sherri Ellington

The Butts County low-birthweight prevention team, the 5-Heart-9 Club, recently received statistics showing its efforts have helped reduce the instances of underweight babies born to Butts County parents by a full percentage point over just one year.

According to the latest data available from the Georgia KIDS COUNT Foundation, Butts County’s low birthweight rate was 7.9 percent in 2016 while the overall Georgia rate was 9.8 percent.

The 2015 low-birthweight rates, based on the number of newborns who weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces or less, were 8.9 percent for Butts County and 9.5 percent for Georgia overall, the same numbers as in 2014. The number of such births locally was at 11.7 percent in 2013 while Georgia’s rate was 9.5 percent.

While celebrating the news, the 5-Heart-9 Club wants those numbers to be even lower for 2018 and in coming years.

“We want our babies to be born weighing at least 5 pounds, 9 ounces,” Butts County Life Enrichment Team Executive Director Ann-Marie Pope said. “The group name is a conversation starter that lets us talk about low birthweight issues.”

The low-birthweight team, part of the Life Enrichment Team collaborative, changed its name to the 5-Heart-9 Club in 2016, Pope said.

While the percentage of low-birthweight babies born to Butts County residents has dropped, some factors that cause low birthweight have increased. For instance, in 2016, the number of births to local teens ages 15 to 19 was 23.5 per 1,000 births, far higher than the Georgia rate of 9.8 per thousand.

“Low birthweight was the only number that improved. We went from worse than the state level to better than the state,” Pope said.

She noted low birthweight was the only “green” status in the 2016 Georgia Kids Count statistics for Butts County. Green means all is well, yellow signifies a statistic needs to improve and red points to urgent issues. Teen birth numbers were in the red.

Child poverty was in the needs-improvement level for Butts County as well. Both the number of teens not in school nor working and parents who are underemployed were in the red. All these can contribute to low-birthweight babies, Southside Butts County Medical Center team representative Carolyn Rowland said.

“The concept of being ready to become pregnant could involve quitting smoking, getting your weight in order and understanding how negative impacts like drinking alcohol can affect a child,” Rowland said. “If you’re not ready (to have a child) that’s fine. Parenting is a really hard job.”

5-Heart-9 Club members go to community events like health fairs and school supply drives, handing out educational information and lists of local resources. The group also holds events of its own.

The second annual 5-Heart-9 Club Community Wellness Day will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 9 at the Ernest Battle Professional Development Center, 218 Woodland Way, Jackson. Members hope to meet parents coming in for the first day of pre-kindergarten registration at the Butts County School System.

“Last year it rained and four women came,” Pope said. “While they were able to spend 10 to 15 minutes at each booth, this year we’re hoping we’ll get more traffic. We’re going to focus on all areas of wellness — physical, mental, financial, spiritual, emotional and social.”

Community Wellness Day will offer body fat analysis, reproductive life and family planning, infectious disease screening and information on Medicaid, finances, nutrition and mentoring, all geared toward increasing the number of babies born at a healthy weight.

At 10 a.m. every second Wednesday of the month, the 5-Heart-9 Club hosts a Snack Chat Social at the Butts County Health Department, 463 Ernest Biles Drive, Jackson.

“All of us (team members) have 9-to-5 jobs that promote the services available,” Butts County Health Department Nurse Manager Krystle Whitten said. “We look at our low-birthweight group collectively so we can consolidate and offer broader services.”

At the socials, expectant parents, people planning to have a baby and those not ready to become parents can have snacks and drinks and talk about reproduction issues. They can create personal or family reproductive plans using what they learn about why babies are born underweight.

“We’re trying to overcome the impression that the social is just for pregnant women. Anyone in the community can come,” Pope said. “There’s not a lot of paperwork. It’s an opportunity for social networking and a great way to get to know what your (community) resources are and how we can help you.”

Whitten noted the health department offers family planning assistance, help in becoming a healthy expectant parent, health care and immunizations along with educational information.

“We offer education on eating and nutrition,” Butts County Health Department Women, Infants and Children Program Manager Danielle Dawson said. “We also have Cooking Matters and breastfeeding classes.”

Christi Toney is the Butts County Life Enrichment Team low-birthweight support specialist and Butts County Health Department WIC breastfeeding peer counselor. Toney is often the group’s first point of contact with residents seeking services, Whitten said.

“We’re here to help,” Pope said. “We want to get people involved before pregnancy and stay with them through school and into the child’s teenage years. Getting healthy means less cost and more ability to improve your life.”

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