July 13, 2012 -- The U.S. preterm birth rate dropped for the fourth year in a row, according to a new federal report.
In 2010, 12% of infants were born before 37 weeks, down from 12.8% in 2006.
Babies born too early are at higher risk for many long-term health and developmental problems. This decline was primarily seen among infants delivered late preterm or between 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.
The study also showed that fewer infants are dying within their first year of life. This rate decreased from 6.4 per 1,000 births in 2009 to 6.1 per 1,000 births in 2010.
While the report, "America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2012," does show some progress in key measures of health, significant challenges still exist.
According to the data, almost 10% of children ages 0 to 17 in the U.S. had asthma in 2010, and about 20% of children aged 6 to 17 were obese. The obesity rates have remained unchanged since 2001-2002.
"It's a mixed picture," says Alan E. Guttmacher, MD. He is the director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md. "Rates of preterm birth and infant mortality are going down and that is wonderful news, but these rates are still higher than we would like it to be," he tells WebMD. "Childhood obesity and childhood asthma continue to be major problems, and we would like to see more gains there for sure."
Report Shows Some Positive Trends
The report was compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a group of 22 federal agencies. Most of the data have been previously reported elsewhere.
According to the new report:
- The teen birth rate continues to decline, decreasing from almost 20 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 in 2009 to 17 per 1,000 in 2010.
- Births to single women aged 15 to 44 fell from 2009 to 2010.
- 7.3 million children did not have health insurance at least once in 2010.
- In 2010, 5% of children aged 0 to 17 had no usual source of health care.
The report also looked at vaccination rates.
More teens got one or more dose of the meningococcal vaccine now than ever before. Rates of this vaccine shot up from 12% in 2006 to 63% in 2010.
The number of teen girls who got the HPV vaccine doubled in three years, reaching 49% in 2010. The HPV shots prevent infection from the strains of the virus most likely to cause cervical cancer.
"Certainly there continue to be challenges," says Edward Sondik, PhD. He directs the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md. "Obesity is a major issue and it is a very significant challenge in terms of how to turn it around and drive it down."
Curbing the rates of childhood obesity will take a multi-dimensional approach. "We don't solve the problem of obesity in the health, education, or housing realms alone," he says.
While infant mortality rates are down overall, they are still twice as high among African-Americans as whites. "This disparity has been an intractable problem that has persisted."