The nation’s rate of preterm birth—the largest contributor to infant death in the United States -- increased again in 2016, after nearly a decade of decline, earning the nation a “C” grade on the latest March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. (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 rate of preterm birth rose in states across the country for a second year in a row. More than 380,000 babies are born preterm in the U.S. each year, facing a greater likelihood of death before their first birthday, lifelong disabilities or chronic health conditions. An additional 8,000 babies were born prematurely in 2016 due to the increase in the preterm birth rate between 2015 and 2016, the March of Dimes says.
“The 2017 March of Dimes Report Card demonstrates that moms and babies in this country face a higher risk of preterm birth based on race and zip code,” says Stacey D. Stewart, president of the March of Dimes. ”We see that preterm birth rates worsened in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and among all racial/ethnic groups. This is an unacceptable trend that requires immediate attention.”
“The March of Dimes is dedicated to giving every baby a fair chance for a healthy start in life, and our work is more vital than ever,” Ms. Stewart says.
The U.S. preterm birth rate went up from 9.6 percent of births in 2015 to 9.8 percent in 2016, according to final data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Across the country, black women are 49 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women and American Indian/Alaska Native women are 18 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women.
This year’s Report Card includes a preterm birth disparity ratio, which provides a summary measure of the disparities in preterm birth rates across racial/ethnic groups in a geographic area. The disparity ratio shows that the differences in preterm birth rates among racial/ethnic groups are getting worse nationally and no state has shown improvement since the baseline of 2010-2012.
Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the largest contributor to the 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.
“In addition to discovering new ways to prevent premature birth, and improve the care that women receive, it’s essential that we improve the broader social context for health,” says Paul E. Jarris, MD, MBA, chief medical officer of the March of Dimes. “Only then will our nation be able to level the playing field for mothers and babies in every community.”
With no one cause of preterm birth, and no simple solution, the March of Dimes says it is taking action on multiple fronts nationally and in communities with the greatest needs, in order to spread known innovations to give every baby a fighting chance, such as:
1. Expanding scientific research:
- A network of five March of Dimes Prematurity Research Centers is pioneering an innovative team approach to identify the unknown causes of premature birth and find new ways to prevent it.
- The conditions in which people live and work have a profound impact on birth outcomes. Scientists have learned that these factors can actually modify how genes are expressed. Studying and understanding the effect of factors such as health care, housing, jobs, neighborhood safety, food security, and income is key to achieving better health or birth equity for all.
2. Increasing education:
- Traditional and new social media campaigns are educating women of childbearing age and healthcare professionals. We’re a trusted source on best practices, from reducing early elective (non-medically indicated) deliveries, to low-dose aspirin to group prenatal care that can dramatically improve the health of moms and babies.
3. Strengthening advocacy for policies that prioritize the health of moms and babies:
- March of Dimes and our supporters work to ensure government policies and programs create a better community context for healthy pregnancies and infants. By advocating for the needs of moms and babies, we work to ensure no mom or baby falls through the cracks.
- We launched a Prematurity Campaign Collaborative, convening 300 leading maternal and child health organizations and experts to build a movement around equity and preterm birth.
4. Improving clinical care programs and practice:
- The March of Dimes creates and runs its signature programs on the ground that help improve health outcomes for mothers and babies, such as Supportive Pregnancy Care; and support and educate families with preterm babies, such as NICU Family Support.
The 2017 March of Dimes 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 the latest NCHS data. Preterm birth rates worsened in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, stayed the same in three states (AL, AZ, WA), and improved in only four states (NE, NH, PA, WY).
- Four states earned an “A” on the 2017 Premature Birth Report Card;
- 13 states received a “B”;
- 18 states got a “C”;
- 11 states and the District of Columbia got a “D”;
- 4 states and Puerto Rico received an “F.”
Among the 100 cities in the U.S. with the greatest number of births (latest data is for 2015), Irvine, California had the lowest rate of preterm birth (5.8 percent), and Cleveland, Ohio had the highest preterm birth rate (14.9 percent).