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(March of Dimes) - The United States' preterm birth rate dropped for the sixth consecutive year in 2012 to 11.5 percent, a 15-year low.
Six states - Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont - earned an "A" on the March of Dimes 2013 Premature Birth Report Card as their preterm birth rates met the March of Dimes 9.6 percent goal. The US preterm birth rate improved to the lowest rate in 15 years, but the change wasn't enough to earn it a better grade. The nation again earned a "C" on the Report Card.
Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico saw improvement in their preterm birth rates between 2011 and 2012, earning seven - Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and New Jersey - better grades. Nineteen states earned a "B," 17 states and the District of Columbia received a "C," five states got a "D," and only three states and Puerto Rico received an "F" on the report card.
According to the Arkansas March of Dimes, Arkansas' rate is up slightly. Some possible reasons are a large number of women smoke, including women who smoke during pregnancy. Also 26% of Arkansas women are uninsured, meaning they are likely not to get early prenatal care.
The March of Dimes estimated that, since 2006, about 176,000 fewer babies have been born too soon because of improvement in the preterm birth rate, potentially saving about $9 billion in health and societal costs.
Preterm birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy,) is a serious health crisis that costs the US more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of serious and sometimes lifelong health problems, such as breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy.
Babies born just a few weeks too soon have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies. Even infants born at 37-38 weeks of pregnancy have an increased risk for health problems compared to infants born at 39 weeks.
The March of Dimes Report Card compares each state's preterm birth rate to the March of Dimes goal of 9.6 percent of all live births by 2020. The Report Card information for the U.S. and states are available online at: marchofdimes.com/reportcard.