So many babies are born early in Florida, the state has earned its third consecutive "F" grade from the March of Dimes for its preterm birth rate.
About 13.8 percent of Florida births in 2008 came before the mother's 37th week of pregnancy, compared with the national rate of 12.3 percent. The United States got a "D" grade in the preterm birth report card, released today.
Florida was one of 13 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to get an "F." Most were in the South and Southeast. No state earned better than a "C" grade.
Preterm birth is associated with a variety of short- and long-term health and developmental issues.
The report card looked at a number of contributing factors. The percentage of women without health insurance increased from 27 percent to 27.9 percent in Florida between 2007 and 2008.
Other contributors to preterm birth are looking a little better. The number of women who smoke decreased from 19.8 percent to 19.2 percent. And the number of late preterm births, defined as those between 34 and 36 weeks, went from 9.8 percent to 9.7 percent.
Late preterm births are often the result of an early induction of labor or C-section delivery, and critics say this can happen more for convenience than medical necessity. The report called on hospitals and health care professionals to establish consistent guidelines regarding such deliveries. Tampa's St. Joseph's Women's Hospital is among six working with the March of Dimes on those guidelines.
"We hope that by reducing risk factors, we will see our state's rate of premature births improve in the future," said John Hadden, the March of Dimes' Florida chapter chairman, in a news release.
The national rate of 12.3 percent marked a decrease from the year before (12.7 percent), but was still far short of the national goal of 7.6 percent, according to the March of Dimes. Vermont has the lowest preterm rate, at 9.5 percent.
Richard Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.