Minnesota scored only a “B” on the March of Dimes’ annual “Premature Birth Report Card,” which was released on Friday.
That’s the same grade the state received last year.
Still, Minnesota outscored many other states — and the country as a whole, which received only a “C.”
This latest report has some troubling news for Minnesota, however. The state’s rate of premature births was actually higher in this year’s report than in the one published last year.
Premature births — those that occur before 37 weeks of pregnancy — are a serious public health issue. Babies who are born prematurely are at greater risk of developing a wide range of medical problems than are full-term babies (born at 39 to 40 weeks). Those problems include lung damage, brain hemorrhages, infections, vision loss and cerebral palsy.
Premature births also exact a heavy economic toll on the U.S. economy: $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. They are one of the leading drivers of rising health-insurance costs, notes the March of Dimes in its report.
An ambitious goal
The March of Dimes has set a goal of reducing preterm births in the United States to 9.6 percent of all births by 2020. Every state, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, has signed a pledge to work toward that goal.
Those efforts are paying off, albeit slowly. The U.S. rate of premature births has dropped since its all-time high of 12.8 percent in 2006. The rate for 2012 — the year that this new report card is based on — was 11.5 percent.
That’s an improvement, but the percentage is still quite high, particularly for a developed country. In 2010, the United States ranked a dismal 131st out of 184 countries in terms of its preterm birth rate, right behind countries like Nigeria, Honduras and Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor) and right in front of Somalia, Thailand and Turkey.
The lower 2012 rate cited in the current report may raise the U.S.’s ranking on that list, but not by much.
According to the report, Minnesota’s rate of premature births was 10.2 percent in 2012, significantly higher than the 9.6 percent of 2011. (Data used in the report came from a variety of government sources, including the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
Despite its rate edging upward, Minnesota retained the “B” grade it had been given by the March of Dimes last year. Eighteen other states, including three of Minnesota’s neighbors — Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota — also received a “B.”
Seventeen states — including Minnesota’s southern neighbor, Iowa — and the District of Columbia scored a “C.” Five states got a “D,” and three states (Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) and Puerto Rico received an “F.”
Six states received “A” scores: Alaska, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, California and Oregon. The March of Dimes notes that California’s score is particularly impressive, given that it has the most births of any state (half a million per year), as well as a racially diverse population.
Nationally, the preterm birth rate tends to be higher among non-Hispanic blacks and Native Americans, due primarily to inequities in health and health care, according to the March of Dimes.
In Minnesota, Native Americans had the highest preterm birth rate in 2012 (13 percent), followed by non-Hispanic blacks (12.7 percent), Hispanics (10.5 percent), Asians (10 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (9.4 percent).
Signs of progress
Although Minnesota’s rate of preterm birth inched up in 2012, the state made progress on two of the three specific factors that the March of Dimes cites as being major contributors to premature births:
- The rate of Minnesota women of childbearing age who are uninsured dropped from 12.7 percent in 2011 to 12.3 percent in 2012.
- The rate of Minnesota women who smoke also fell, from 21 percent to 19.5 percent.
The third factor — the rate of late preterm births (after 37 weeks but before 39 weeks of gestation) — stayed the same at 7.1 percent.
Babies born before after 37 weeks but before full gestation are still at increased risk for death and disability, the March of Dimes notes in its report. The organization has been actively working with hospitals and health professionals to eliminate non-medically-necessary elective deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation.
You’ll find the March of Dimes report on the organization’s website.