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The number of premature babies born in the US dropped to 11.5% in 2012 - a 15-year low, according to the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. However, the change was not enough to alter the overall grade given to the nation - that remains a "C."
There is no room for complacency, as March of Dimes points out 1 in 9 babies - 450,000 a year - are born too soon.
March of Dimes defines preterm birth as before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and babies born too soon have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies.
Early babies may face serious and sometimes lifelong health issues - including breathing problems, developmental delay, vision loss and cerebral palsy.
Even babies born at 37-38 weeks have a higher risk of health problems than those born at 39 weeks. Physicians from the University of Buffalo highlighted this in a recent study reported in Medical News Today.
As well as the health implications, there are the financial costs. As March of Dimes President Dr. Jennifer L. Howse explains:
"A premature birth costs businesses about 12 times as much as an uncomplicated healthy birth. As a result, premature birth is a major driver of health insurance costs not only for employers."
The National Center for Health Statistics says that the national preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 at 12.8%. Since then, March of Dimes estimates that 176,000 fewer babies were born preterm - with a potential saving of $9 billion in health and societal costs.
Dr. Howse continues:
"Although we have made great progress in reducing our nation's preterm birth rate from historic highs, the US still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country. We must continue to invest in preterm birth prevention because every baby deserves a healthy start in life."
Since 2003, March of Dimes has been campaigning to reduce premature births nationally and has set a goal of 9.6%. Across the US, only six states - Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont - met this target and achieved an "A" grade.
March of Dimes singles out California's achievement as being particularly noteworthy, pointing out that not only does it have the highest birth rate of all the states - with 500,000 births each year - it also has a racially diverse population living in urban, suburban and rural communities.
According to the Report Card, the grade ranges were established in 2011 using a specific formula. Scores were then rounded to one decimal point, resulting in the following scoring criteria:
|Grade||Preterm birth rate|
|A||Less than or equal to 9.6%|
|B||Higher than 9.6% but less than 11.3%|
|C||Greater than or equal to 11.3% but less than 12.9%|
|D||Greater than or equal to 12.9% but less than 14.6%|
|E||Greater than or equal to 14.6%|
March of Dimes 2013 Report Card shows that 31 states saw improvements in their preterm birth rates, with the grades breaking down as follows:
Non-Hispanic black infants remain at greatest risk of preterm birth at 16.8%, although this number has fallen from 18.5% in 2006. And while the gap between blacks and whites is narrowing, preterm birth rates among non-Hispanic black babies is still more than 1.5 times higher than non-Hispanic whites.
March of Dimes also looked at some contributing factors to early birth and noted reductions in the number of women of childbearing age who smoke in 35 states. They also recorded reductions in the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age in 37 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Written by Belinda Weber
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
March of Dimes 2013 Premature birth report cards
Additional source: March of Dimes News release. Accessed 4 November 2013.
Visit our Pregnancy / Obstetrics category page for the latest news on this subject.
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Weber, Belinda. "Preterm birth rate drops to 15-year low." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 4 Nov. 2013. Web.
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