Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont earned an A on the March of Dimes 2013 Premature Birth Report Card because their preterm birth rates met the March of Dimes goal of 9.6%.
The U.S. preterm birth rate improved to 11.5%, the lowest rate in 15 years, but the change was not enough to earn it a better grade, according to a March of Dimes news release. The nation again earned a C on the Report Card.
The March of Dimes estimated that since 2006, about 176,000 fewer babies have been born too soon because of improvement in the preterm birth rate, potentially saving about $9 billion in health and societal costs.
Although we have made great progress in reducing our nations preterm birth rate from historic highs, the U.S. still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country, Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, March of Dimes president, said in a news release. We must continue to invest in preterm birth prevention because every baby deserves a healthy start in life.
The national preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 at 12.8% after rising steadily for more than two decades, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The 2012 rate is a 10% improvement since the 2006 peak and the best rate since 1998. When compared with 2006, almost all states had lower preterm birth rates in 2012.
The 2012 preterm birth rate among non-Hispanic black infants remains the highest of all the racial groups at 16.5%, down from 18.5% in 2006 and the lowest in more than 20 years. The gap between blacks and whites has been slowly narrowing, but the preterm birth rate among non-Hispanic blacks is still more than 1.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.
Preterm birth (before 37 weeks gestation,) is a serious health crisis that costs the U.S. more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face a higher risk of serious and sometimes lifelong health problems, such as respiratory complications, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy. Babies born only a few weeks too soon have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies. Even infants born at 37-38 weeks of pregnancy have an increased risk for health problems compared with infants born at 39 weeks, according to the news release.
On the 2013 Report Card, 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico improved in their preterm birth rates between 2011 and 2012, with seven Alaska, California, D.C., Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and New Jersey earning better grades.
Nineteen states earned a B, 17 states and D.C. a C, five states a D and three states and Puerto Rico an F on the report card.
Californias success in achieving the March of Dimes goal is noteworthy, according to the news release. Not only is California home to half a million new babies each year, the most of any state, it also has a racially diverse population in a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities with a variety of healthcare and economic needs.
The Report Card gauges states progress toward lowering their preterm birth rates by tracking contributing factors. For example, 37 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico reduced the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age; 35 states and D.C. reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke; and 28 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate (infants born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation).