November 14, 2012 — The U.S. preterm birth rate declined for the fifth consecutive year, reaching 11.7% of live births in 2011 and earning a "C" on the March of Dimes' annual report card, the Huffington Post reports. The organization has set a goal of lowering the preterm birth rate to 9.6% by 2020 (Pearson, Huffington Post, 11/13).
The report noted that between 2006 and 2010, there were 64,000 fewer infants born prematurely, resulting in about $3 billion in health care and economic savings (Healy, USA Today, 11/13).
Janis Biermann, the March of Dimes' vice president for education and health promotion, said that while some states have made significant gains, others still face challenges.
Thirteen states improved their preterm birth rate by at least one letter grade, but Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont were the only states to earn an "A" for meeting the organization's 9.6% goal. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi each received an "F" for having rates of 14.6% or higher (Huffington Post, 11/13).
Many factors contribute to the number of preterm births, including maternal smoking and insufficient access to prenatal care. Late preterm births -- those between 34 weeks and 36 weeks of pregnancy -- also continue to play a role. Although these newborns usually are healthier than those born the earliest, they still are three times more likely than full-term infants to die in the first year of life (USA Today, 11/13).
However, the report found that late preterm birth rates have improved slightly, falling from 8.7% to 8.3% in 2011 (Huffington Post, 11/13).
Opinion Piece Calls for Reauthorization of PREEMIE Act
In an opinion piece for The Hill's "Congress Blog," Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) write, "Reauthorizing the PREEMIE Act [SB 707] will continue to fuel progress in reducing our nation's premature birth rate by supporting federal research and promoting known interventions and community initiatives." They note that November is Prematurity Awareness Month.
The U.S. "prematurity rate is one of the highest in the world and is the leading cause of newborn death," and it "costs our economy at least $26 billion per year," they continue.
The PREEMIE Act, first passed in 2006, "brought unprecedented national focus to prematurity prevention," but "the premature birth rate is still too high," they write, concluding that reauthorization of the act will help ensure that every child born in the U.S. "has a healthy start in life" (Eshoo/Lance, "Congress Blog," The Hill, 11/12).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership