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Health & Pregnancy

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Slight Improvements in Preterm Birth Rates

U.S. Still Behind Other Industrialized Countries
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 17, 2010 -- A state-by-state review of preterm birth rates saw some slight improvements, but the United States overall still has a long way to go to meet the nation’s Healthy People objective of 7.6%, according to a report released by the March of Dimes.

States Still Fail to Make Higher Grades

The nation’s preterm birth rate fell from 12.7% in 2009 to 12.3% in 2010. The states that did improve only showed slight declines in preterm birth rates. Overall, 17 states earned a “C,” 20 received a “D,” and 13 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico failed. Regionally, many of the “Fs” occurred in the South, whereas the West Coast and Northeast had predominantly “Cs.” Not a single state earned an “A” or a “B.”

Some states that demonstrated significant improvement include Wyoming, which went from a preterm birth rate of 12.7% in 2009 to 11.2% in 2010; Colorado, which went from 12.2% to 11.4%; and Virginia, which went from 12.1% to 11.3%. States also experienced decline, including Vermont, which went from a grade of “B” in 2009 to a “C” in 2010.

Despite many states failing, states did improve their rates of preterm births by making a dent in the problem. Smoking and lack of health insurance both increase the risk of preterm birth. Among the improvements:

  • 28 states and Puerto Rico reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke.
  • 17 states and the District of Columbia lowered the number of uninsured women of childbearing age.

37 states and Puerto Rico reduced the preterm birth rate of infants born between 34 and 36 weeks; 79 % of the national rate of decline occurred among babies born just a few weeks too soon.

National Rate Improves Slightly

The March of Dimes says these numbers indicate a start of an upward trend. Preterm birth rates had been steadily rising until between 2006 and 2008 when the rate dropped from 12.8% to 12.3%, respectively. The March of Dimes notes that despite its wealth, the United States has a high rate of preterm birth compared with other industrialized countries.

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