The health of babies in the United States has taken a step backward as the nation’s preterm birth rate worsened for the first time in eight years, the March of Dimes said today. The U.S. earned a “C” grade on the latest March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card amidst widening differences in prematurity rates across different races and ethnicities. (Please visit the March of Dimes multi-media news release to download broadcast quality videos, high-resolution pictures, documents and other links about preterm birth.)
“The 2016 March of Dimes Report Card demonstrates that there is an unfair burden of premature birth among specific racial and ethnic groups as well as geographic areas,” says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “The March of Dimes strives for a world where every baby has a fair chance, yet we see this is not the reality for many mothers and babies. Babies in this country have different chances of surviving and thriving simply based on the circumstances of their birth.”
The U.S. preterm birth rate went up from 9.57 to 9.63 in 2015, according to final data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Across the country, preterm birth rates were nearly 48 percent higher among black women and more than 15 percent higher among American Indian/Alaska Native women compared to white women.
Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the leading cause of death of babies in the U.S. Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. In addition to the human toll, preterm birth accounts for more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
“Americans lead the world in medical research and care, yet the U.S. preterm birth rate still ranks near the bottom of high-resource nations,” Dr. Edward R.B. McCabe, March of Dimes Chief Medical Officer said. “We can do better by mobilizing resources and driving best practices and policies to ensure that no mother or baby falls through the cracks.”
Dr. McCabe urged broader use of proven interventions in the most-challenged communities: for example, an initiative by the March of Dimes in Mississippi to eliminate early elective (non-medically indicated) deliveries, which prompted Mississippi Medicaid to implement policy changes that have helped more babies there have full-term births.
The 2016 Premature Birth Report Card provides rates and grades for states and counties in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, based on NCHS data. March of Dimes also features a disparity index score that ranks and tracks state progress towards the elimination of racial/ethnic disparities in preterm birth. Maine ranked first on the disparity index score, while Hawaii ranked 50th.
Seven states -- Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and Wisconsin – received worse grades this year than last year on the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. Four states – New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington -- earned an “A” on the 2016 Premature Birth Report Card; 16 states received a “B”; 21 states and the District of Columbia got a “C”; six states and Puerto Rico got a “D”; and three states – Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi -- received an “F.”
Individuals are encouraged to visit marchofdimes.org to learn more about prematurity and disparity in their own state; sign up to raise awareness on World Prematurity Day; and support programs and groundbreaking research addressing the causes of prematurity.