Circumcision rate increases in midwest

News  USA Today (Washington). Wednesday, 1 August 2001.

Rita Rubin

In the who knew? department comes this tidbit from the National Center for Health Statistics:

Newborn boys in the Midwest are more than twice as likely to be circumcised as newborn boys in the West. In 1999, the most recent year for which information is available, the Midwest led the country in circumcisions, with 81.4% of baby boys undergoing the procedure, in which the foreskin is removed from the penis.

But only 36.7% of baby boys born that year in the West were circumcised, says a new report from the health statistics center, or  External link NCHS, part of the  External link Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NCHS has been collecting circumcision data since 1979, but this is the first time it has published the breakdown by region and race, says statistician Abigail Moss, who wrote the new report.

From 1979 to 1999, the proportion of circumcised newborns nationwide and in the Northeast held steady at around 65%, according to the new report. But the percentages rose in the Midwest and the South and declined in the West.

The South's rise, to 64.1% from 55.8%, probably is due to circumcision becoming more common among black Americans, Moss says. During the 1980s, white infants were about 13% more likely to be circumcised than black infants, according to her report. By 1999, though, the rates were nearly equal.

As for the West's decline, she says, I think the primary reason is the higher immigrant population and the increase in Hispanic births in the West.

George Kaplan, a pediatric urologist in San Diego who served on the American Academy of Pediatrics task force on circumcision, notes that Hispanics and Asian immigrants don't routinely practice circumcision. Still, Kaplan says, he thinks even though the proportion of baby boys circumcised in the West has declined over the years, it's not quite as low as this new report indicates.

Kaplan's task force concluded that there are no compelling health benefits or risks for circumcision. So the pediatrics academy recommends that parents consult their pediatrician and take into account religious, cultural and ethnic traditions.

Newborns are circumcised for a variety of reasons, from health benefits—such as a reduced risk of the rare cancer of the penis—to Jewish and Muslim religious beliefs to fathers wanting their sons to look like them.

Anti-circumcision groups, such as the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, or  External link NOCIRC, argue that the procedure causes unnecessary pain in newborns and adversely affects men's sexual sensations.

Dan Bollinger, founder of the Indiana chapter of NOCIRC, says the percentage of newborn boys who are circumcised in the USA actually has declined, thanks to the efforts of groups such as his.

Citing a 1980 book, Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy by Edward Wallerstein, Bollinger says the U.S. rate was 85% in 1979. By his own calculations, he says,the rate had fallen to 59% in 1999.

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