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Report Says County Leads California in Prenatal Care

Health: Local rates of child poverty and AIDS also offer good news. In other areas the picture is mixed--although mostly better than L.A. County.

April 03, 2001|DAVID PIERSON and MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Ventura County mothers receive the highest rate of early prenatal care in California, according to a report released Monday.

But the mortality rate among the county's Latino babies in 1995-97 was more than seven for every 1,000 births--higher than the state's average of 5.7 per 1,000.

Among other findings from recent years in the annual report by the state Department of Health Services:

* About 10% of Ventura County's children were living in poverty, compared with 18% statewide and 22% in Los Angeles County.

* Like most of the rest of the state, Ventura County experienced a significant decline in AIDS cases. From the mid-1990s to the late 1990s, the incidence of AIDS dropped from about 15 cases per 100,000 residents to fewer than nine per 100,000, the report found. That compares with a state average of about 25 cases per 100,000.

* About 175 of every 100,000 residents in Ventura County died of cancer in 1999, slightly less than the state average. On the other hand, death rates from lung and breast cancer in Ventura County were slightly higher than the state averages.

* Heart disease was more likely to kill a resident in Ventura County than in 33 of the state's 58 counties. But county residents were less at risk in this category than people in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"We're in very good shape in many parameters," said Dr. Robert Levin, the county's public health officer. Countywide, 89% of mothers received prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy. That compares with less than 86% in Orange County, 85% in Los Angeles County and 83% statewide. Mendocino County reported the lowest, with about 59% of mothers getting early prenatal care.

"But in some ways we're disappointingly middle-of-the-road," Levin said. "I'd like us to be first or second in most of these categories."

*

Experts are attributing California's progress in the battle against AIDS to the introduction of effective drug treatments for the disease.

"California has made AIDS drugs universally available to everyone," said Michael Montgomery, chief of the state's Office of AIDS. "People who are insured and uninsured have access through the AIDS drug program. It's exciting news, but it doesn't mean there is a decrease in HIV infection."

In Los Angeles County, public health officials found that deaths from heart disease, diabetes and homicide occur at much higher rates than most other counties in the state. But lung cancer rates are far lower.

Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, that county's director of public health, said the combination of higher tobacco prices, more education and a ban on smoking in many public areas explains the 19% decrease in the number of lung cancer cases diagnosed in the last decade.

Health officials there say one reason for the diabetes and heart complications is that more than half of Los Angeles County's residents are not exercising adequately or eating properly.

Fielding said 60% of adults in the county don't exercise, 52% are overweight, and 17% are obese. "The average coronary risk is significantly above where we would like it to be," he said.

Los Angeles County ranks fourth highest among California's 58 counties in deaths due to coronary heart disease. There were 235 deaths caused by heart disease per 100,000 people in the county, compared with 204 statewide and 177 in Ventura County. San Bernardino County was the worst in the state.

"Doing more exercise is not hard, but it takes will," Fielding said. "People can do things like park farther away from the office or walk to lunch. We're not saying you have to spend two hours at the gym every day."

*

In terms of sexually transmitted diseases, Los Angeles County ranks sixth highest in incidence of chlamydia and fourth in incidence of syphilis.

Ventura County was 35th of 58 counties for chlamydia rates and saw fewer than three cases of syphilis per year in the late 1990s.

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