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California improves its ranking on March of Dimes Annual Preterm Birth Report Card

Sacramento, CA | November 13, 2012 California has seen marked improvements in rates of preterm birth according to a March of Dimes Preterm Birth Report Card released at the State Capitol today. Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire and Maine rank ahead of California in rates of preterm birth. California and Washington tied for 5th place with a rate of 9.8 percent. While preterm birthrates fell to 9.8 from 10.3, the improvements were not enough to warrant an "A" grade in 2012.

"Preterm birth had risen 30 percent since the 1980's, but today we can celebrate a reversal of that trend and announce steps we are taking to raise our grade to an "A" by 2014," said March of Dimes California Chapter Associate Director Leslie Kowalewski. "We are bringing together families affected by our mission, public health officials, physician leaders, hospitals and leading scientists to confront the issue of preterm birth."

Preterm birth - birth before 37 weeks gestation - is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, hearing loss and other chronic conditions.

California's preterm birth rate has dropped from a 2006 high of 10.9 percent to 9.8 percent. The report card graded the state on rates of preterm birth, and called attention to three areas of focus in the fight against preterm birth late preterm birth (birth between 34 and 37 weeks gestation), rates of smoking among women and access to healthcare for women. In California, the rate of late preterm births is 7.1 percent; the rate of women smoking is 10.4 percent; and the rate of uninsured women is 25.3 percent. The number of uninsured women of childbearing age grew from 2011 to 2012, a trend that concerns March of Dimes as ongoing health care is a crucial component of managing conditions that contribute to preterm birth.

The United States again received a "C" on the March of Dimes Report Card. Grades are based on comparing each state's and the nation's 2011 preliminary preterm birth rates with the March of Dimes 2020 goal of 9.6 percent of all live births. The U.S. preterm birth rate is 11.7 percent, a decline of more than 8 percent from the peak of 12.8 percent in 2006.

Partnerships with the California Department of Public Health and leading research Universities, including Stanford University, are two recent steps March of Dimes is taking to further improve rates of preterm birth in California.

The California Department of Public Health joins 47 other states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in a pledge to reduce premature birth and infant mortality, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). The goal is to reduce the state's preterm birth rates by eight percent by 2014. The State will work with March of Dimes to promote the use of March of Dimes quality improvement programs in the state's hospitals and utilize the organization's resources to educate pregnant and parenting women. The State has enouraged all 61 California health jurisdictions to partner with March of Dimes on prematurity prevention activities.

"We will continue to work with the State of California to improve access to health care, help women quit smoking and encourage women and health care providers to avoid scheduling a delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary," added Kowalewski.

In another major step to combat preterm birth, March of Dimes in early 2011 launched the nation's first transdisciplinary research center dedicated to identifying the causes of premature birth. The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine has brought together specialists in disciplines ranging from neonatology and genetics to computer science and artificial intelligence. This unique, transdisciplinary team is the first group of experts from diverse fields to work together so closely to study prematurity.

The partnership with government officials and the development of the research center are two steps since the March of Dimes launched a public campaign in 2003 to curb rates of preterm birth. Rates of preterm birth have declined for five straight years, and health officials expect continued improvement.


Contact: Sheri Lunn
March of Dimes Foundation

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