The March of Dimes released their 2012 Premature Birth Report Card for the United States, earlier today. While pre-term births – meaning any birth “before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy” – have decreased nationally over the past five years, the national grade is still an embarrassing “C” and ten states have earned a “D” or an “F”. According to today’s press release from the March of Dimes, the United States ranks 131 out of 184 countries, meaning there are 130 countries with a lower annual percentage of pre-term births, based on a May 2012 global report on premature birth issued by the March of Dimes and several partners.
Why is it important to have a full-term baby (defined as a baby born after 37 completed weeks of pregnancy)? The longer a baby is in utero, the more time they have to develop strong lungs, hearts, spines and protection around their brains. Another way of stating it is, the earlier the birth, the more severe the health problems may be. The March of Dimes’ website has lots of information on the health risks premature babies face, at http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/premature_indepth.html
While there is no one answer to delivering a healthy, full-term baby, the recommendations include early and frequent pre-natal care, stop smoking, stop drinking and eat healthier foods.
The bottom ten states ranked from worst to better (with links to their report cards) are:
1. Mississippi – F (but showing improvement)
2. Louisiana – F (and getting worse)
3. Alabama – F (but showing improvement)
4. South Carolina – D (but showing improvement)
5. Kentucky – D (but showing improvement)
6. A four-way tie:
- Arkansas – D (and getting worse)
- Nevada – D (with little change)
- Oklahoma – D (with little change)
- Georgia – D (but showing little improvement)
10. Florida – D (but showing improvement)
Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. were also graded. Puerto Rico has the highest rate of premature births and preliminary data indicates that the rate has worsened after several years of much-needed improvement. They were graded an “F”. Washington, D.C. earned a “D” and would have been ranked fourth worst, had they been a state. As is Puerto Rico, the preliminary numbers for Washington D.C. indicate 2011 results were worse than 2010, after several years of improvement.
Where should you go? The four best states with the lowest rates of premature births are Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire and Maine. Each earned an “A”, with Vermont having the lowest premature birth rate in the country.
The report card grades were calculated by the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center in November 2012 and are based on preliminary 2011 data from the National Center for Health Statistics.