WEDNESDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Forty states and the District of Columbia made progress in reducing their rate of premature births, but the improvements were too small to raise the overall U.S. score from a near-failing 'D' grade, a new report shows.
Each year, the March of Dimes ranks each state according to its rate of premature births, defined as babies born before 37 weeks' gestation.
Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death. Babies born too early are also at risk of lifelong difficulties such as cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities.
The U.S. preterm birth rate ticked down to 12.3 percent in 2008 (the most recent data available) from 12.7 percent in 2007, according to the report. It was the second decrease in as many years -- in 2006, the premature birth rate was 12.8 percent.
The rate is still substantially higher than the goal of 7.6 percent set by the federal government's Healthy People 2010 campaign, but the declines are an improvement nonetheless, said Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes.
"We feel we have reached a tipping point in our country around this problem," Howse said. "We are encouraged because many of the programs we have worked on together with our partners are in place and starting to work."
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin noted that more can be done, however.
"Over half a million babies are born every year preterm, and it is the leading cause of death among newborns," Benjamin said. "As Surgeon General, prevention is my priority, and we need to prevent that."
Benjamin noted that preterm babies typically suffer from any number of health complications, including cerebral palsy, lung problems, digestion problems and vision problems.
"These things can be prevented," she said.
"One, we can provide insurance for pregnant women. Because we know that hav
All rights reserved