None Are So Blind
As Journalists With An Agenda
W. Hamilton

Date of original release: 2/21/01

Playing in newspapers across the United States this week are the results of two Annie E. Casey Foundation reports on health indicators for American babies. The reports show national, state-by-state and 50-city trends between l990 and l998 on such indicators as low birthweight, premature birth, prenatal care, and maternal smoking during pregnancy.

Nationally as well as locally at least three of the trends showed great consistency: Between l990 and l998 low birthweight and premature births were up and maternal smoking during pregnancy was down.

Just so this will be very clear, let me repeat it. Low birthweight up. Premature births up. Smoking down.

In itself this isn't particularly astonishing news because other reports have shown the same thing. What is astonishing is that reporter after reporter throughout the United States looked at this data and failed to see it. Instead of commenting in any way on the apparent inverse relationship between maternal smoking trends and the increasing rates of low birthweight and preterm birth, they stated that maternal smoking was a big risk factor for both preterm birth and low birthweight and that something must be done to further lower maternal smoking.

Frequently even the headlines for the news reports focused on maternal smoking: "New moms who smoke are more numerous here" (Seattle Times); "Fewer moms-to-be smoking, study finds" (The Oregonian).

Beth Kaiman of the Seattle Times began her news story with: "Babies born in Washington state are generally healthier than in the rest of the United States, but the percentage of new mothers who smoke exceeds the national average, according to a national study released yesterday" (2/20/01).

Then she goes on to quote Richard Brandon, project director of Washington Kids Count: "While we can be proud of our commitments to prenatal care and health care for mothers and babies, we must step up our efforts to help pregnant women avoid smoking, which we know causes health risks."

Nowhere did Kaiman question Brandon's bizarre logic or note the inconsistency of blaming maternal smoking for low birthweight and premature birth while the very data she was writing about showed that the rates for these went up while the smoking rate went down.

None of her brethren in Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and a host of other states noticed it either. Nor did the reporter for USA Today, even though the newspaper had charts showing, for example, that the District of Columbia which had the very highest rate of underweight births also had the very lowest maternal smoking rate.

How can it be that journalists cannot see what's right before their eyes, even as they write the stories? None are so blind as those with a mission, and these reporters are obviously on a mission when it comes to smoking.

For links to the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports, go to

For line charts of rates of maternalsmoking, preterm birth, and low birthweight by cities or states, go to

For more extensive information on maternal smoking and low birthweight and preterm birth, see the Smoking and Pregnancy bibliography in the FORCES evidence section.

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