Many positive trends in the health of Americans continued into 1997. In 1997, the preliminary birth rate declined slightly to 14.6 births per 1000 population, and the fertility rate, births per 1000 women 15 to 44 years of age, was unchanged from the previous year (65.3). These indicators suggest that the downward trend in births observed since the early 1990s may have abated.
Fertility rates for white, black, and Native American women were essentially unchanged between 1996 and 1997. Fertility among Hispanic women declined 2% in 1997 to 103.1, the lowest level reported since national data for this group have been available. For the sixth consecutive year, birth rates dropped for teens. Birth rates for women 30 years or older continued to increase. The proportion of births to unmarried women (32.4%) was unchanged in 1997.
The trend toward earlier utilization of prenatal care continued for 1997; 82.5% of women began prenatal care in the first trimester. There was no change in the percentage with late (third trimester) or no care in 1997. The cesarean delivery rate rose slightly to 20.8% in 1997, a reversal of the downward trend observed since 1989. The percentage of low birth weight (LBW) infants rose again in 1997 to 7.5%. The percentage of very low birth weight was up only slightly to 1.41%. Among births to white mothers, LBW increased for the fifth consecutive year, to 6.5%, whereas the rate for black mothers remained unchanged at 13%. Much, but not all, of the rise in LBW for white mothers during the 1990s can be attributed to an increase in multiple births. In 1996, the multiple birth rate rose again by 5%, and the higher-order multiple birth rate climbed by 20%.
Infant mortality reached an all time low level of 7.1 deaths per 1000 births, based on preliminary 1997 data. Both neonatal and postneonatal mortality rates declined. In 1996, 64% of all infant deaths occurred to the 7.4% of infants born at LBW. Infant mortality rates continue to be more than two times greater for black than for white infants. Among all the states in 1996, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire had the lowest infant mortality rates. Despite declines in infant mortality, the United States continues to rank poorly in international comparisons of infant mortality.
Expectation of life at birth reached a new high in 1997 of 76.5 years for all gender and race groups combined. Age-adjusted death rates declined in 1997 for diseases of the heart, accidents and adverse affects (unintentional injuries), homicide, suicide, malignant neoplasms, cerebrovascular disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and diabetes. In 1997, mortality due to HIV infection declined by 47%. Death rates for children from all major causes declined again in 1997. Motor vehicle traffic injuries and firearm injuries were the two major causes of traumatic death. A large proportion of childhood deaths continue to occur as a result of preventable injuries.