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Birth Conditions Affect Tennessee Children

Embargoed until Contacts: Linda O'Neal
February 2, 2005 or Pam Brown
12:01 a.m. EDT Phone (615) 741-2633

The conditions under which infants are born can have lifelong effects on their development and readiness for school. Today the Annie E. Casey Foundation posted updated data in its online report, The Right Start for America’s Newborns: City and State Trends, tracking birth information yearly from 1990 to 2002.

Tennessee’s best ranking, 36th, and the only indicator where the state is slightly better than the national average, is on births to mothers with less than 12 years of education. In 1990, the percent of births to mothers with less than 12 years of education was higher in Tennessee than nationally. Public policy efforts to keep children in school, including an increase in the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18 and linking eligibility for a driver license to school attendance, may have played a large part in improvements in Tennessee.

Too many babies in Tennessee are born too soon and too small. Tennessee’s worst ranking, 46th, is for the percent of preterm births (less than 37 completed weeks of gestation), also a major factor in the state’s second worst ranking, 45th, for low-birthweight babies. Preterm and low-birthweight infants are at increased risk for developmental delays that can affect their chances of being left behind in school.

The percent of total births to teens has decreased at a higher rate in Tennessee than nationally, but the state still ranks 43rd. And over 10,000 babies were born to teen mothers in Tennessee in 2002, almost one in four of them to a teen who was already a mother. Efforts to prevent teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy must continue in Tennessee, and we know one of the best strategies to prevent both is hope for a brighter future through education.

Tennessee ranked 37th on the percent of births to mothers receiving late or no prenatal care at a time when TennCare paid for prenatal care and delivery for half the babies born in Tennessee. Disparities continue in the state, with Nashville ranking 10th best on this measure among the 50 largest cities in America and the city of Memphis ranking 49th.

The Right Start for America’s Newborns: City and State Trends is available on the Internet at or through TCCY’s website ( The KIDS COUNT programs and publications are funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children. For more information contact (615) 741-2633.