Alarm at region's level of pregnant smokers

Roughly 19 per cent of south-west mothers surveyed smoked during pregnancy, higher than the national figure of 14 per cent, leaving health workers concerned about the ramifications on infant health.

Roughly 19 per cent of south-west mothers surveyed smoked during pregnancy, higher than the national figure of 14 per cent, leaving health workers concerned about the ramifications on infant health.

NEARLY one in five south- west mothers smoked during their pregnancy, a new report into childhood health has found.

Data released by the National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) found smoking rates among the region’s pregnant women were worryingly high, although the region fared well in other aspects of infant welfare.

Roughly 19 per cent of south-west mothers surveyed smoked during pregnancy, higher than the national figure of 14 per cent, leaving health workers concerned about the ramifications on infant health.

The number of smokers overall has decreased over the past decade with 20 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women identifying as cigarette smokers, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics data.

Medicare Local population and community health co-ordinator Carly Dennis said the data showed the south-west was performing well on some aspects of infant welfare and needed improvement in others.

“Smoking during pregnancy is an issue right across Australia and this report shows south-west Victoria also has a problem in that regard,” Ms Dennis said.

“It really highlights the efforts by local government and health professionals that are working to reduce smoking in public areas and changing habits for the better.”

Medicare Local catchments throughout Australia were examined between 2009 and 2011 with each allocated to a peer group based on socio-economic status, remoteness and distance to hospitals. 

The data found young children are up to three times more likely to die depending on where they live and the rate of low birthweight babies is more than double in remote parts of Australia compared to metropolitan areas.

South-west Victoria has a young child mortality rate of roughly 4.3 infants per 1000, just under the national rate of 4.4 per 1000 children.

National Health Perform­ance Authority chief Diane Watson said localised reports highlight areas where improvements in child and maternal health should be made. 

“These results empower health system managers and local communities to target their efforts to drive child and maternal health programs for the benefit of all families,” Dr Watson said. 

It is the first report from NHPA with a region-by-region breakdown of infant and young child mortality, low birthweight, smoking during pregnancy and access to antenatal care. 

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