TUESDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- The rate of preterm births in the United States dropped slightly, to 12.2 percent in 2009, from its high three years earlier, according to a new analysis by the March of Dimes.
But those numbers fall far short of the March of Dimes' goal of 9.6 percent by 2020, explained Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes.
"Things are getting a little bit better. We're excited to report progress for three years in a row," said Howse. "Our rate of preterm birth is just too high though."
Vermont, which already has a 9.3 percent rate, was the only state to earn an "A" on the March of Dimes 2011 Premature Birth Report Card.
Grades were arrived at by comparing a state's preterm birth rate to the 2020 goal.
Nationwide, the new figures represent a decline of almost 5 percent from 2006, when the preterm rate peaked at 12.8 percent of all live deliveries. The improvement resulted in savings of at least $2 billion in health care and related costs, the organization said.
Any birth that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation is considered preterm, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It's the leading cause of death in newborns, and can cause serious health problems in those who survive. Babies born prematurely may have lifelong intellectual disabilities, breathing problems, cerebral palsy, digestive problems, and vision and hearing loss, reports the CDC.
Risk factors for having a preterm birth include having a chronic illness, such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes, smoking or illicit drug use during pregnancy, certain infections, and carrying more than one baby (twins or more), according to the CDC. A previous preterm birth also raises the odds, but preterm birth can also occur in women who have none of these risk factors.
Overall, the United States earned a "C"
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