Low birth weight babies and other troublesome birth outcomes in Travis County are occurring at greater rates among mothers in census tracts where incomes are low and medical assistance can be miles away from home – and disproportionately among teen-aged African-American mothers, according to new data analysis and geographic maps unveiled by Children’s Optimal Health.
The information and maps were shared at the Birth Outcomes Summit, held at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. They geographically show, per county census tract, key indicators so that public agencies, community groups, health care providers and others can see “hot spots” where mothers in need of assistance are clustered.
“For this project, it is our goal to enhance existing analyses by providing a geographical perspective on birth outcomes and related social, economic and environmental factors in Travis County,” said Maureen Britton, Children Optimal Health president and executive director. “We want this to lead toward improving birth outcomes, eliminating health disparities and supporting the health of infants, mothers and families.”
One new map shows concentrations where babies are born with low birth weights. It shows clear patterns in eastern and northeastern Travis County, as well as an area on the county’s southern border where such low-weight births are more concentrated.
Another map identifies locations where more than 25 percent of mothers received inadequate prenatal care prior to giving birth. It shows concentrations in eastern Travis County census tracts, but also in several neighborhoods up and down Interstate 35.
The educational status and age of the mother are issues that can be related to birth outcomes. One map shows areas on both sides of Interstate 35 with higher concentrations of mothers who have not finished high school, while an additional map addresses births to mothers younger than 18 years of age. Understanding the characteristics of mothers more vulnerable to challenging birth outcomes can help outreach and intervention programs seeking to produce better outcomes for families.
While most women living in and giving birth in the county enjoy healthy outcomes, the study shows potential health disparities in birth outcomes that put newborns at risk for poor early development. And data show African-Americans at greater risk for preterm and low weight births when compared to comparable data for whites, Hispanics and those of Asian descent.
Children’s Optimal Health was created in 2008 when 13 leading community agencies in Austin became charter members and committed funding, data, time and knowledge for mapping projects. It maps proprietary, legally compliant data that does not identify individuals and is acquired through data sharing agreements with more than 14 Austin area education and health entities. Ascension Seton is one of seven supporting sponsors of Children’s Optimal Health.
“Maps speak a universal language and can be valuable communication tools,” said Britton. “They can enhance the ability of health and service providers to more effectively target limited funds.”
Once each project is complete, a summit is held to present the information and engage partners in planning for prevention and intervention in neighborhoods of need.
Previously, Children’s Optimal Health has done studies related to childhood obesity, cardiovascular health, car seat installation and use and other issues. More than 10 summits have been held, with more in the planning stages.