The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department recently issued a report of local birth data for 2017 through 2021, showing an increase in the county’s birth rate and describing how different social determinants of health affect birth rates.

According to the report, the 2021 birth rate for Santa Barbara County was 57.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15 through 44, with a total of 5,489 births to mothers living in the county.

While there was a low count in 2018, births have been increasing since then, and the 2020 birth rate was “significantly higher” than the California rate, as the rate in the state has been decreasing. Data regarding California’s birth rates for 2021 are not yet available, but the county’s rate is projected to continue to be higher than the state’s, as it has been since 2019.

“In a county of nearly 450,000 residents, an average of 5,363 births were recorded each year; births comprised about 2% of the [Santa Barbara County] population,” the Santa Barbara County Birth Report stated.

The report also revealed that births to teenage females between ages 15 and 19 significantly declined between 2017 and 2018 — from 21.9 births per 100,000 teens to 17.1 births per 100,000 teens — and have remained steady since.

In addition to birth statistics, the report included information on social determinants of health — “conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”

The report stated that the five broad categories of social determinants of health include economic stability, education accessibility and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context.

“Healthy mothers lead to healthy babies,” Joy Jacobsen, a Public Health senior epidemiologist, and Kelley Barragan, director of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, told Noozhawk in an email. “Having health insurance facilitates a woman’s access to timely prenatal and postpartum care, which drastically improves birth outcomes, the long-term health outcomes of mothers and the life expectancy of newborns.”

A Healthy Places Index for cities in the county shows that the impacts of the social determinants of health are different depending on the geographical area. Each city is given an HPI score that shows how healthy the community is based on characteristics such as access to health care, education and more.

According to the 2021 index, Santa Barbara County had a countywide score of 64.3. Montecito has the highest HPI score in the county at 89.4. The lowest HPI score was in Isla Vista at 11.7.

In the categories of education (the percentage of people with an education level of a bachelor’s degree or higher), health care access (the percentage of insured adults in the community) and life expectancy, Montecito had the highest values.

Guadalupe was shown to have the lowest education level at 9.25%, while Montecito’s was at 72%. While 98.2% of adults in Montecito are insured, Santa Maria had the lowest rate at 71.6%. Lompoc had the lowest life expectancy at 76.8. Montecito’s life expectancy was 85.4 for 2021.

All of those social determinants can affect the health outcomes for mothers and newborns. For example, education levels — which also can be a measure of income — were linked to the timing of prenatal care.

“In 2021, Santa Barbara County mothers that completed at least a GED and some college credit (13 years of schooling or greater) began prenatal care in the first trimester almost 92% of the time, which was much higher than the county percentage of 83.5%,” the report stated. “When drilling down by years of education, mothers with less than 12 years of schooling or those unable to obtain a GED or high school diploma were below the county average.”

Looking at race and ethnicity in relation to preterm births, Black, multiple races and Hispanic populations were shown to have significantly higher proportions of preterm births.

“Although Black mothers initiated prenatal care at a higher proportion in 2021, these mothers had the highest percentage of preterm births,” the report stated. “This was in part due to the small number of births to Black mothers in Santa Barbara County, but also due to the effects of racism within health care that has negatively impacted access to quality care.”

In 2021, the preterm birth rate was 17.9% for Black mothers, 10.5% for those of multiple races and 9.5% for Hispanic mothers, while white mothers only had a preterm birth rate of 6.7%. The countywide preterm birth rate in 2021 was 8.6%.

“Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is committed to improving the health of our community and reducing health issues and disparities for infants and birthing persons through leading, collaborating and supporting various programs and initiatives in partnership with community partners,” Jacobsen and Barragan said.

Some of the services and programs Public Health has available include the Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Field Nursing Unit, Women, Infants and Children — and its several services including benefits for health foods, assistance finding medical providers and community resources, bilingual lactation consultants, and more — Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers, the Comprehensive Perinatal Services Program, County Nutrition Services and many more.

The full 2017 to 2021 birth report for Santa Barbara County can be found on the Public Health Department’s website here.

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.