November 18, 2009 — Seven states improved their grades and two dropped a letter to "F" in the 2009 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, in which the U.S. as a whole earned a "D" for the second straight year, a new report says.
Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts improved their grades from D's to C's, and Missouri, Arizona, and Indiana went from F's to D's. Ohio and Oklahoma dropped from D's to F's.
Just as in last year's first report card, no state earned an A, and only Vermont scored a B.
Grades were determined by comparing preterm birth rates to the national Healthy People 2010 preterm birth objective, which is 7.6 % of all live births.
For the U.S., the most current preterm rate based on preliminary data was 12.7 %, which earned the country the same grade as in the 2008 report card.
More than 540,000 babies are born too soon each year in the U.S., the March of Dimes says. Premature birth (babies born before 37 weeks of gestation) is the leading cause of newborn deaths. Preemies often face a lifetime of health problems.
The organization says steps can and have been taken to reduce the number of preterm births. The Intermountain Health Program in Utah reduced its elective C-sections to less than 5%, from more than 30%. Pregnant women at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania are screened for chronic conditions and risk factors, which allows for proactive treatment and reduces the risk of premature births.
"Although we don't yet understand all the factors that contribute to premature birth, we do know some interventions that can help prevent it, and we must consistently make use of all of these," Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, says in a news release.
The March of Dimes also says in the new report that:
33 states and Washington, D.C., reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke, a major risk factor for premature births.
21 states and Washington, D.C., reduced the percent of childbearing women who are uninsured.
27 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate.
State-by-State Report Card
Here's how the states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico rank in preterm birth rates, from best to worst, and each one's grade, along with its preterm birth rate percentage.
Vermont 9.2% (grade: B)
New Hampshire 9.4% (grade: C)
Oregon 10.3% (grade: C)
Alaska and Minnesota 10.4% (grade: C)
Connecticut and Idaho 10.5% (grade: C)
Maine and Washington 10.6% (grade: C)
California and Utah 10.9% (grade: C)
Wisconsin 11.1% (grade: C)
Massachusetts 11.2% (grade: C)
Kansas 11.5% (grade: D)
Iowa and North Dakota 11.6% (grade: D)
Pennsylvania 11.8% (grade: D)
Montana and Nebraska 11.9% (grade: D)
Rhode Island 12% (grade: D)
Virginia 12.1% (grade: D)
Colorado and Michigan 12.2% (grade: D)
New York 12.3% (grade: D)
Hawaii 12.4% (grade: D)
Missouri 12.5% (grade: D)
South Dakota 12.6% (grade: D)
Arizona, New Jersey, and Wyoming 12.7% (grade: D)
New Mexico 12.8% (grade: D)
Indiana 12.9% (grade: D)
Illinois 13.1% (grade: D)
Ohio 13.2% (grade: F)
North Carolina 13.3% (grade: F)
Maryland 13.4% (grade: F)
Oklahoma 13.5% (grade: F)
Georgia and Texas 13.6% (grade: F)
Florida 13.8% (grade: F)
Arkansas and West Virginia 13.9% (grade: F)
Tennessee 14.2% (grade: F)
Delaware and Nevada 14.3% (grade: F)
Kentucky 15.2% (grade: F)
South Carolina 15.5% (grade: F)
Washington, D.C. 15.6% (grade: F)
Louisiana 16.5% (grade: F)
Alabama 16.6% (grade: F)
Mississippi 18.3% (grade: F)
Puerto Rico 19.4% (grade: F)
The grades are based on preliminary data from the CDC for 2007 and final numbers for 2005 and 2006.