Questions for Lauren Rossen, Ph.D., Health Statistician and Lead Author of “Quarterly Provisional Estimates for Selected Birth Indicators”and “Quarterly Provisional Estimates of Infant Mortality”
Q: What findings in your new data analyses on births and infant mortality most surprised you and why?
LR: These latest quarterly provisional estimates suggest that the steady decline in teen birth rates that we have seen over the past several years is continuing into 2017, which is good news. What is of concern is the recent uptick in preterm birth rates, a trend that emerged in 2015 and that has unfortunately continued into 2016 and early 2017.
Q: What is the difference between the Rapid Release provisional estimates on births released today and the report from your office released last month, “Births: Provisional Data for 2016”? And how are these two provisional data analyses different from your office’s “preliminary data” released in the recent past?
LR: The most recent Quarterly Provisional Estimates provide an update to some of the data released in the recent report, Births: Provisional Data for 2016. That report is similar to previous “preliminary birth data” reports, but is redesigned and released under our Vital Statistics Rapid Release (VSRR) program. We hope that the VSRR program can be a one-stop-shop for our provisional vital statistics data. The Quarterly Provisional Estimates describe very recent trends in key indicators of maternal and infant health from the birth and mortality data the report, Births: Provisional Data for 2016, provides some critical context for understanding these recent trends. report also describes some additional demographic and reproductive health indicators that aren’t yet available in the Quarterly Provisional Estimates, such as birth rates by race and Hispanic origin, as well as the timing of prenatal care.
Q: What in your data analyses can be attributed to no change in infant mortality in the last few quarters?
LR: is another surprising and concerning finding, because infant mortality rates have generally been declining over the past decade, at least through 2014. These declines seem to have leveled off more recently, according to our provisional estimates. We can’t speak to why infant mortality rates might no longer be declining, but we are planning future research to help us better understand this troubling trend.
Q: What differences did you see among various age groups of mothers?
LR: There is a great deal of detail in the recent report, Births: Provisional Data for 2016, discussing how age-specific birth rates have changed recently. Generally, both that report and our recent Quarterly Provisional Estimates show that maternal age is increasing. Birth rates among younger women (under 30) are going down, while those among women 35 and up are increasing.
Q: What are seasonal fluctuations in the number of infant deaths and births, and what do you mean by accounting for seasonality as you described in your report’s preface?
LR: People may not think that there are seasonal patterns to births, but it turns out that there are more babies born in the third quarter of the year, from July-September, than during other parts of the year. There are seasonal patterns in other indicators as well. For example, preterm birth rates dip slightly in the third quarter compared with other quarters, while infant mortality rates tend to be a bit higher in the beginning of the year than toward the end of the year. So to ensure that any differences we find aren’t influenced by seasonal fluctuations, we only compare the most recent quarter with the same quarter from the previous year. We also present 12 month-ending estimates, which include all seasons of the year, and thus aren’t subject to seasonal ups and downs.