March of Dimes reports decline in Colorado’s premature birth rate

Premature birth in Colorado has declined along with three key contributing factors, it was reported today by the March of Dimes in its annual assessment, the Premature Birth Report Card. However, despite these improvements (and for the third straight year), the state's overall grade is a "D."

“There are a number of things that Colorado is doing right, especially when it comes to addressing preventable factors.”

Lower rates were seen for uninsured women (from the 21% reported in 2009 to 20.6%) and women smoking (from 17.4% to 16.6%). Late preterm birth (when a baby is born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy), also declined (from 8.8% to 8.2%). These three factors contributed to a lower premature birth rate of 11.4% (compared to the 12.2% reported last year). This equates to one in eight babies, or more than 8,000. A baby is considered premature when he or she is born three or more weeks early. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

Report card grades are determined by comparing statistics to the Healthy People 2010 premature birth rate goal of 7.6%. The United States (with a premature birth rate of 12.3%) received a "D" on the March of Dimes report card. No state earned an "A" or a "B." Seventeen states received a "C," 20 states a "D" and 15 states an "F." (The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are included in the evaluation.) Data for the report card comes from the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

"Despite the fact that Colorado's grade didn't change, all the data indicates that we are moving in a positive direction," said Shelly Goodchild, state director of the March of Dimes Colorado chapter. "There are a number of things that Colorado is doing right, especially when it comes to addressing preventable factors."

One example Goodchild pointed to is the state removing some barriers to Medicaid coverage, thereby providing access to care for uninsured women. She also praised the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's smoking cessation outreach and programs.

In terms of the lowered incidence of late preterm birth, Goodchild noted that "physicians have become more aware of the need to weigh the pros and cons of performing often-elective procedures such as C-sections and inductions." The March of Dimes is working with other groups such as the Colorado OB/GYN Society and the Colorado Perinatal Care Council to develop a new statewide initiative aimed at further growing awareness of this issue.

Today's announcement comes on Prematurity Awareness Day, an annual nationwide event. Throughout November, the March of Dimes seeks to draw attention to the seriousness of premature birth, which has been called the biggest threat to a baby's health. Half a million babies in the U.S. are born too soon each year. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death and babies who survive often face the risk of lifelong health challenges. The dollar cost of premature birth exceeds $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.

All this month, Coloradans are encouraged to visit marchofdimes.com/fight to learn more, sign up for an advocacy network and honor babies and children special to them. Visitors to the website can also download a copy of the Premature Birth Report Card and get additional information about how grades were determined. Special Colorado activities during the month to mark prematurity awareness include education sessions for nurses who take care of premature babies at The Children's Hospital and University Hospital and the lighting of a pink-and-blue cause ribbon on the exterior of Denver's Pepsi Center. Pepsi Center will also be home to a new March of Dimes event called Family Fair. To be held on Saturday, December 4, Family Fair is designed to help families - who have experienced a newborn health crisis or lost a baby - get support and resources.

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