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Birth rate starting to inch back up in Hall County
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Hall County births
2010: 2,605
2009: 2,810
2008: 3,114
2007: 3,226
2006: 3,052
2005: 3,042
2004: 3.070
2003: 2,914
2002: 2,885
2001: 2,879
2000: 2,882
Source: Department of Public Health

After a three-year decline, Hall County births are starting to inch back up, according to the number of deliveries recorded at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

The medical center reported an additional 100 deliveries in fiscal year 2012 than in 2011, an increase of 2.8 percent.

According to the Department of Public Health, births reached a high point in 2007 at 3,226 in Hall County, but have fallen since then, with 2,605 births in 2010, the most recent data available.

“It’s definitely coming back up. Our delivery volume dropped in ’09, ’10 and ’11,” Director of Women and Children’s Services Sara Dyer said. “I think a lot of that was probably due to the Hispanic population relocating, but I also think that it was due to just an overall drop in U.S. births.”

The hospital keeps a record of the number of deliveries it sees in a year, but does not include details such as where the mother resides, her age, race or ethnicity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that births in the nation fell for the fourth year in a row, a trend experts tend to blame on the economy.

“For couples starting families, I would be inclined to believe that the uncertain economy has played a role in couples delaying their decision to have children,” said Dave Palmer, public information officer for District 2 Public Health.

The national decline in 2011 was just 1 percent — not as sharp a fall-off as the 2 to 3 percent drop seen in recent years.

“It may be that the effect of the recession is slowly coming to an end,” said Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.

The economy officially was in a recession from December 2007 until June 2009.

The federal report is a first glimpse at 2011 birth certificate data from state health departments. More analysis comes later but officials don’t expect the numbers to change much.

Early data for 2012 is not yet available, and it’s too soon to guess whether the birth decline will change, said the CDC’s Stephanie Ventura, one of the study’s authors.

The report also indicated a steep decline in Hispanic birth rates and a new low in teen births.

According to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, a group that aims to reduce adolescent pregnancies by 15 percent by 2015, Hall County teen pregnancies rank at 50 of 159 counties in the state.

The campaign lists Georgia as having the 13th highest teen birth rate in the country.

According to the Department of Public Health, there were 323 births in Hall for mothers up to age 19, less than in 2009, 2008 and 2007.

“The continued decline in the teen birth rates is astounding,” said John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health.

Did the economy have anything to do with a drop in teen births?

Yes, indirectly, Santelli said. Teenagers watch the struggles and decisions that older sisters and older friends are making, and what they see influences their thinking about sex and birth control, he said.

“Teens tend to emulate young adults,” Santelli said. “They are less influenced directly by the economy than by people.”

Studies show that since 2007, larger percentages of sexually active teenage girls are using the pill and other effective birth control. Studies also show a small decline in the proportion of girls ages 15 through 17 who say they’ve had sex, Santelli noted.

Hall County is also keeping right along with the national trend in C-sections.

The U.S. C-section rate may have finally peaked at just under 33 percent, the same level as last year.

Cesarean deliveries are sometimes medically necessary. But health officials have worried that many C-sections are done out of convenience or unwarranted caution, and in the 1980s set a goal of keeping the national rate at 15 percent.

Dyer said the hospital’s rate of C-sections is just more than 31 percent.

“I think we’re pretty well holding steady on that but it’s something all hospitals are trying to decrease,” Dyer said.

The C-section rate had been rising steadily since 1996, until it dropped slightly in 2010.

“It does suggest the upward trend may be halted,” said Joyce Martin, a CDC epidemiologist who co-authored the new report. But CDC officials want a few more years of data before declaring victory, she added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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