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Health & Pregnancy

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U.S. Gets 'D' in Preterm Birth Report Card

Vermont Has Best Grade in March of Dimes Rankings for Lowest Rates of Premature Births
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 17, 2009 -- Seven states improved their grades and two dropped a letter to "F" in the 2009 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, in which the U.S. as a whole earned a "D" for the second straight year, a new report says.

Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts improved their grades from D's to C's, and Missouri, Arizona, and Indiana went from F's to D's. Ohio and Oklahoma dropped from D's to F's.

Just as in last year's first report card, no state earned an A, and only Vermont scored a B.

Grades were determined by comparing preterm birth rates to the national Healthy People 2010 preterm birth objective, which is 7.6 % of all live births.

For the U.S., the most current preterm rate based on preliminary data was 12.7 %, which earned the country the same grade as in the 2008 report card.

More than 540,000 babies are born too soon each year in the U.S., the March of Dimes says. Premature birth (babies born before 37 weeks of gestation) is the leading cause of newborn deaths. Preemies often face a lifetime of health problems.

The organization says steps can and have been taken to reduce the number of preterm births. The Intermountain Health Program in Utah reduced its elective C-sections to less than 5%, from more than 30%. Pregnant women at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania are screened for chronic conditions and risk factors, which allows for proactive treatment and reduces the risk of premature births.

"Although we don't yet understand all the factors that contribute to premature birth, we do know some interventions that can help prevent it, and we must consistently make use of all of these," Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, says in a news release.

The March of Dimes also says in the new report that:

  • 33 states and Washington, D.C., reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke, a major risk factor for premature births.
  • 21 states and Washington, D.C., reduced the percent of childbearing women who are uninsured.
  • 27 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate.

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