St. Paul received an “A” grade from the March of Dimes on Thursday for preventing preterm births — one of only four such cities in the nation to receive that high of a score.
Minneapolis, on the other hand, was among the 26 cities given a “B” grade.
On the county level, Ramsey and Olmsted received “A” grades, while Hennepin, Dakota and Anoka got “B’s” and Washington received a “C.”
Overall, the state of Minnesota scored a “B” — again.
The grades were handed out as part of the annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. This year, for the first time, the organization gave grades to cities and counties as well as to states. The grades were determined by comparing the 2014 preterm birth rate in each geographic community to the March of Dimes’ 2020 goal of an 8.1 percent rate.
The organization has set that goal because premature births — those that occur before 37 weeks of pregnancy — are a very serious public health issue. Preterm birth is the leading cause of infant death, and babies 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, heart problems, brain hemorrhages, infections, vision loss and cerebral palsy.
Moving the goal post
Now, there’s a bit of goal post-moving in this report. The March of Dimes had previously set a goal of reducing preterm births in the United States to 9.6 by 2020. (Nationally, pre-term births reached an all-time high rate of 12.8 percent in 2006.)
But this year, the nation met that 9.6 percent goal, and, so, the March of Dimes has reset it to 8.1 percent.
“Reaching our goal ahead of schedule is progress, but it is not victory — our work is far from done,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, in a released statement. “As our new list of city preterm birth rates highlights, many areas of the country, and tens of thousands of families, are not sharing in this success. No baby should have to battle the health consequences of an early birth. All babies, everywhere, deserve a healthy start in in life.”
More about Minnesota
St. Paul had the third-best preterm birth rate among the 100 cities listed in the report. Its rate was 8.0 percent, below Portland, Oregon (7.2 percent), and Oxnard, California (7.8 percent), and just ahead of Seattle (8.1 percent).
Minneapolis’ rate was 8.8 percent, which placed it 23rd on the list. That rate was also slightly higher than Minnesota’s statewide rate of 8.7 percent.
Seventeen cities received F ratings. At the bottom of the list were Detroit (13.0 percent); Birmingham, Alabama (13.1 percent); Cleveland (13.7 percent); Memphis (13.7 percent); and Shreveport, Louisiana (18.8 percent).
A high (poor) disparity score
The report also gives each state, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, a “disparity index” ranking, which is based on differences in preterm birth rates across racial and ethnic groups.
In Minnesota in 2014, the percentage of births that were preterm were 11.6 percent for Native Americans, 10.2 percent for blacks, 8.3 percent for whites, 8.2 percent for Hispanics and 7.6 percent for Asian-Americans.
The differences in those rates are significant. As a result, Minnesota received a rather low disparity score of 26, which landed it 32nd among all states in the March of Dimes’ rankings.
Maine came out best on the disparity index, with the smallest gaps among racial and ethnic groups in its preterm birth rate. The District of Columbia scored lowest, with the largest gaps.
You’ll find the 2015 March of Dimes Premature Birth Scorecard on the organization’s website.