The United States is slowly reducing its rate of premature births, bringing the rate to 11.7 percent in 2011, but the figure is still higher than public health advocates believe it should be.
The updated data come from the March of Dimes, which released its annual Premature Birth Report Card on Tuesday. It gave the United States a C in overall preterm birth rate reductions. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one out of eight babies is born prematurely in the United States each year.
In Florida, the rate is worse: 13 percent, a D grade on the March of Dimes scale. Still, the Florida rate has declined in each of the past three years.
In a report released earlier this year, the March of Dimes noted that the United States ranks 131st out of 184 countries — putting it close to countries such as Somalia, Thailand and Turkey.
According to its data, the U.S. preterm birth rate is now at the lowest rate in a decade. Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said that for 30 years up to 2006, the U.S. preterm birth rate had been increasing.
The March of Dimes' goal is to bring the national preterm birth rate down to 9.6 percent by 2020. Four states earned A ratings on the report card: Vermont at 8.8 percent, Oregon at 9.1 percent, New Hampshire at 9.5 percent and Maine at 9.6 percent. The worst states on the report card included Louisiana at 15.6 percent and Mississippi at 16.9 percent. The rate in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was 17.6 percent.
Howse pointed to a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine that noted that premature births cost the United States $26 billion a year. But she said this year's improved numbers could have "potential savings of roughly $3 billion in health care and economic costs to society." According to the data, approximately 64,000 fewer babies were born preterm in 2010, compared with the peak year in 2006.
From this year's report card, Howse said her group noted four evidence-based interventions that can contribute to lower premature birth rates: insuring soon-to-be moms, reducing the number of scheduled deliveries, investing in smoking cessation programs and investing in progesterone therapy that helps to delay early contractions.
The report card also notes that the rate of uninsured women of childbearing age increased to more than 21 percent in the past year — in Florida, the rate was 29.3 percent. Experts say uninsured women who are pregnant may forgo vital prenatal care during their pregnancy.
Howse said states that ensured better access to health care fared better on the report card.
"It means that women of child-bearing age have access to their physicians — that risks are detected earlier rather than later. I do believe we will start to see that kind of halo effect in our maternal and child health outcomes once the (Affordable Care Act) is fully implemented," she said.