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Births don’t keep up with deaths in Mecklenburg

SoVaNow.com / December 12, 2012
The number of births in Mecklenburg County has dropped steadily for the past five years and is failing to keep up with the number of deaths, underscoring the likelihood of continued local population declines unless an influx of newcomers makes up for the county’s losses.

Falling birth rates, high rates of death and mixed data on the cancer and heart disease-related mortality are all part of the county’s health profile for 2011, the latest available from the Virginia Department of Health. The VDH released the 2011 community profiles at the end of November.

As far as the population outlook is concerned, the data suggests that Mecklenburg County is caught in the double-whammy of an aging citizenry that is passing from the scene even as young people are moving away with increasing frequency.

While the 2010 census indicated that Mecklenburg County’s population grew by a scant one percent, all of the growth occurred on the east side of the county. Towns like Clarksville and Chase City experienced a significant decline attributable to outmigration and the loss of industry.

Clarksville alone lost 14.3 percent of its population after both Burlington Industries and the Russell Stover candy factory closed. Chase City lost 4.1 percent of its population during that same period.

The 2011 data from VDH suggests the county’s population challenges are growing even more daunting as time goes on.

There were only 294 live births last year, by far the lowest number over the past five years. Just four years before, in 2007, Mecklenburg County reported 317 live births. The difference of 23 live births does not seem significant until it is measured against the increase in the number of deaths Mecklenburg County experienced in that same period. Deaths went from 430 in 2007 to 451 in 2011.

The shortfall of births compared to deaths was wider in 2011 than that during any other year in the five-year period, both in real terms and as a percentage of the county’s overall population.

One interesting statistic for Mecklenburg County is in the number of abortions. In both 2009 and 2010, that number was in the mid 80s. In 2011, abortions dropped sharply to 32. Nearby Halifax County showed a similar decline, reporting only 13 abortions in 2011 compared to 80 in 2010.

The sharp drop-off in 2011 is anomalous with the statewide trend; while the number of abortions in Virginia has fallen from 27,292 in 2007 to 23,635 in 2011, the decline has been relatively gradual, and the 2010 and 2011 statewide totals were little changed from each other.

Joan Corder-Mabe, a resource program manager in the family health services division of the Virginia Department of Health said there was no obvious explanation for the declining abortion rate, but pointed out that across the state abortions are on the decline.

Births to unwed mothers is again on the rise. It peaked in 2009 at 194, but dropped in 2010 to 168. In 2011 that number increased to 178.

That increase is not attributed to pregnancies among girls between the ages of 15 and 19, which are on the decline. In 2011 only 38 girls in the 15-19 age group reported a pregnancy.

In 2008 and 2009 that number was as high as 63.

Corder-Mabe said teen births in Virginia are the lowest they have been in 40-50 years. For Mecklenburg County she attributes this decrease to two “strong” programs in the area, Healthy Start, which works with high risk pregnancies, and Resource Mothers, a mentoring programing aimed at getting teens back into school and helping them find ways to avoid becoming pregnant again within a year.

Still, the number of births to unwed mothers in Mecklenburg County is high compared to the state. More than 60 percent of all births in Mecklenburg County in 2011 were to unwed mothers. Across the state of Virginia, by contrast, only about a third (35.5 percent) of all babies in 2011 were born to unmarried mothers.

Unlike Halifax County, which showed a correlation between the steadily declining birth rate and the number of low birth-weight babies (30), Mecklenburg County saw a 20 percent increase in low weight births in the past two years. At the same time, the number of mothers who received pre-natal care in the first trimester held steady at about 70 percent.

Other findings contained in Mecklenburg County’s 2011 profile include the following data points:

118 county residents died of cancer, giving Mecklenburg County a higher cancer mortality rate than the state as a whole, and comprising nearly 50 percent of the cancer deaths among the three counties that make up the Southside District: Halifax, Brunswick and Mecklenburg.

Similarly, Mecklenburg County experienced higher-than-average, though not abnormally high, rates of deaths from cardiovascular disease (heart and lung disorders) and cerebrovascular disease (strokes and related brain dysfunctions).

On a positive note, deaths in Mecklenburg County due to Alzheimer’s, suicide and chronic liver disease were significantly lower than the rest of the State.

Overall, Mecklenburg County had a death rate for all ages in 2011 that significantly exceeded the statewide average, according to the VDH. The rate of total deaths in Mecklenburg County, age adjusted and calculated per 100,000 population, was 939.6 persons, compared to 735.8 for Virginia as a whole. In Southside District, the total deaths rate was 881.1 persons.

The VDH community health profiles can be found on-line athttp://www.vdh.virginia.gov/healthstats/stats.htm#pop

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