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Nation gets a 'D' as March of Dimes releases premature birth report card

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., NOV. 12, 2008 The United States is failing hundreds of thousands of its youngest citizens on the day they are born, according to the March of Dimes.

In the first of what will be an annual Premature Birth Report Card, the nation received a "D" and not a single state earned an "A," when the March of Dimes compared actual preterm birth rates to the national Healthy People 2010 objective.

The only state to earn a "B" was Vermont. Eight others earned a "C," 23 states earned a "D," and 18 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia got failing grades of "F."

"It is unacceptable that our nation is failing so many preterm babies," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "We are determined to find and implement solutions to prevent preterm birth, based on research, best clinical practices and improved education for moms."

November 12 marks the nation's 6th Annual Prematurity Awareness Day, a time when the March of Dimes mobilizes volunteers and parents to draw attention to premature birth (birth before 37 weeks gestation), which affects more than 530,000 babies each year in the United States. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death and a major cause of lifelong disability.

In this election year, the March of Dimes invites all Americans to help send a message to President-elect Barack Obama, and to federal and state lawmakers by signing the 2008 Petition for Preemies at

In addition to providing state rankings, the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card analyzes several contributing factors and prevention opportunities, including rates of late preterm birth, smoking, and uninsured women of childbearing age. The purpose is to raise public awareness of the growing crisis of preterm birth so elected and appointed officials will commit more resources to address this problem and policymakers will support development of strategies that benefit mothers and babies.

The Report Card also is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Women's Health Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the National Business Group on Health, the American Benefits Council and dozens of other business and maternal and infant health organizations.

The Report Card also calls for:

  • Expanded federal support for prematurity-related research to uncover the causes of premature birth and lead not only to strategies for prevention, but also improved care and outcomes for preterm infants.
  • Hospital leaders to voluntarily review all Cesarean-section births and inductions of labor that occur before 39 weeks gestation, in an effort to reverse America's rising preterm birth rate. The review should ensure that all c-sections and inductions meet established professional guidelines.
  • Policymakers to improve access to health coverage for women of childbearing age and to support smoking cessation programs as part of maternity care.
  • Businesses to create workplaces that support maternal and infant health, such as providing private areas to pump breast milk, access to flextime, and information about how to have a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

The National Healthy People 2010 preterm birth objective is to lower the rate to 7.6 percent of all live births. Latest available data (2005) show that the national preterm birth rate is 12.7 percent.

"Employers can play a key role in helping their employees and dependents have healthy babies and healthy families," said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. "The March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card provides guidance on best practices that can help any size business."

The March of Dimes says that in 2009, Report Card grades will reflect state actions taken that have the potential to reduce preterm birth rates in future years.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in the first month of life in the United States. The preterm birth rate has increased about 20 percent since 1990, and costs the nation more than $26 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine report issued in July 2006.

Babies who survive a premature birth face the risk of serious lifelong health problems including learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, and other chronic conditions including asthma. Even infants born just a few weeks too soon have a greater risk of breathing problems, feeding difficulties, hypothermia (temperature instability), jaundice and delayed brain development.


Contact: Elizabeth Lynch
March of Dimes Foundation

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