US Preterm Birth Rate Hits Healthy People 2020 Goal Early

Megan Brooks

November 06, 2014

The preterm birth rate in the United States fell for the seventh consecutive year, reaching 11.4% in 2013, the lowest rate in 17 years, and reaching the federal Healthy People 2020 goal 7 years early, according to the annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, released today.

Despite this progress, the United States still received only an average grade of "C" on the report card because it fell short of the more-challenging 9.6% target set by the March of Dimes, according to a March of Dimes news release.

"Achieving the Healthy People 2020 goal is reason for celebration, but the US still has one of the highest rates of preterm birth of any high resource country and we must change that," March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, said in a statement.

In the United States, 1 in 9 babies are born prematurely, the March of Dimes says, which is a higher rate than in most developed nations.

"We are investing in a network of five prematurity research centers to find solutions to this still too-common, costly, and serious problem," Dr Howse said.

According to the March of Dimes, more than 450,000 babies were born premature in 2013 compared with 542,893 in 2006, when the rate was at its highest. The group estimates that since 2006, 231,000 fewer babies have been born preterm because of sustained interventions put in place by states, saving $11.9 billion in healthcare and other costs.

Medical expenses for an average premature infant are about $54,000 compared with $4,000 for a healthy newborn, the group says.

On the 2014 report card, 27 states and Puerto Rico saw their preterm birth rates improve between 2012 and 2013, earning better grades for 5 of them: Iowa, Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

Five states earned an "A," including California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont.

Twenty states earned a "B" grade, 20 states received a "C," and two states and the District of Columbia got a "D." Three states and Puerto Rico received an "F" on the report card.

The group also tracks states' progress toward lowering preterm birth rates by following three principle risk-reduction strategies. The current report indicates that

  • 30 states and the District of Columbia reduced the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age;

  • 34 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke; and

  • 30 states and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate (babies born between 34 and 36 weeks' gestation).

Several factors are driving preterm birth rates down, the March of Dimes says, including the group's "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait Campaign," which encourages women and their healthcare providers to avoid scheduling an early elective delivery before at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. "Based on quality improvement programs at hospitals, there has been dramatic reduction in early elective deliveries," the group says. Improved access to maternity care and a decline in the number of women smoking during pregnancy have also helped.

"Premature Birth Report Card." March of Dimes. Published online November 6, 2014. Full text


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: