TUESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- For the fifth year in a row, the preterm birth rate in the United States has dropped. The 2011 rate was the lowest in 10 years, the March of Dimes reported today.
But, there's still significant room for improvement. Nearly half a million babies in the United States are still born prematurely, noted the March of Dimes in its 2012 Premature Birth Report Card. Overall, the U.S. grade remains a "C" because of the continued high preterm birth rate.
A preterm birth occurs at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy. Prematurity puts infants at risk for a number of health problems including breathing difficulty, heart defects and bleeding in the brain. Some conditions are only temporary while others can persist.
In 2011, "the rate of preterm birth [was] at 11.7 percent, which is the lowest we've seen in a decade," said Dr. Edward McCabe, medical director for the March of Dimes. "That means 64,000 fewer babies were born prematurely in 2010 compared to 2006, the peak year for preterm birth. Along with the personal cost, there's also an economic cost, and there's a potential savings of $3 billion in health care and economic costs associated with those 64,000 babies not being born preterm."
The goal, McCabe said, is to get the number of preterm births down to 9.6 percent by 2020.
Four states -- Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont -- have already achieved that goal, and were graded an "A" by the March of Dimes. Twenty-two states were closing in on the goal and received a "B" grade. Almost all states -- 45 -- improved between 2009 and 2011. However, just 16 of them improved enough to increase their letter grade.
Three states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi -- and Puerto Rico received a failing grade. Alabama's preterm rate was 14.9 percent, Louisiana's was 15.6 percent, Mississippi's was 16.9 percent and Puerto Rico had a preterm b
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