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Nation gets a low grade in preventing premature birth

November 12, 2008 | 10:00 am

Premie21 The rate of premature birth in the United States is shockingly high for a developed country that possesses sophisticated healthcare technology. The nationwide rate is 12.7% even though federal health officials say it should be no more than 7.6%. Prematurity rates have worsened in recent years, increasing by more than 15% between 1995 and 2005.

Those statistics have earned the country a D in the March of Dimes first annual Premature Birth Report Card issued today. States were also given grades. Vermont had the lowest rate, at 9%, which earned it a B. California's rate is 10.7%, earning it a C. Eighteen states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia received grades of F.

Premature birth exacts an enormous cost on babies and on society, according to the March of Dimes. It is the leading cause of newborn death and a major cause of lifelong disability. Such births cost the nation $26 billion a year.

Earlier this year, the March of Dimes established a petition seeking more federal attention to the problem and more money for research on prevention.

— Shari Roan

Photo credit: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times

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Comments (2)

The March of Dimes has issued a press release about preventing prematurity without mentioning the most important risk factor in prematurity: race. Prematurity is much higher in women of African descent than in any other group, white, Hispanic, Asian or Native American. This effect persists even when corrected for income and socio-demographic factors. Wealthy educated African-American women have a much higher rate of prematurity than their counterparts of other races. The map of prematurity that the March of Dimes distributed correlates almost perfectly with census maps that show the distribution of African Americans within the country.

Of course Vermont has the lowest rate of prematurity. It is the least integrated state in the Union. It has nothing to do with prematurity prevention programs in Vermont. Of course Washington, DC has the worst rate of prematurity. It has one of the highest concentration of African-Americans in any part of the US.

The March of Dimes is equally disingenuous about the issue of iatrogenic prematurity. Iatrogenic prematurity (caused by deliberately delivering a baby early) has a strong, medically approved rationale. The March of Dimes bemoans the fact that many babies are deliberately delivered prematurely. They decry the health problems caused by prematurity, but they neglect to mention that stillbirths have decreased dramatically as a result.

I was at the press conference this morning and Doctor Fielding made mention of this many times about the high incidence of the rate of premature births in the African American Population. He did a great job this morning on the subject. I will be writing my summary of the press conference and it should be up tomorrow.

I got teary eyed . Tough listening to a press conference like that. It is an important issue.


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