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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