Utah earns a 'B' for premature birth rate

Public health • Officials, providers collaborate to improve state's already better-than-average showing in March of Dimes report.
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Utah received a B grade for its efforts to reduce premature births last year.

Some 5,500 babies in the state were born too early, or 10.9 percent. The national rate was 11.7 percent, giving the nation a C.

Still, that's the fifth consecutive year the U.S. rate has dropped, according to the March of Dimes, which releases the annual report card. Its goal is to reduce the rate to 9.6 percent by 2020.

Most states are inching toward that by agreeing to a short-term target of reducing the rate by 8 percent by 2014. That would mean 500 fewer preterm births in Utah.

The goal was set a couple of months ago by the March of Dimes and Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

As part of its efforts, Utah held a Prematurity Symposium this week with health department, hospital and health insurance officials along with specialists, including OB-GYNs and neonatologists, to create a perinatal quality collaborative.

Julie Drake, director of program services for the Utah chapter of the March of Dimes, said the goal is to standardize the treatment of high-risk pregnant women. It will look at "how pregnant women are taken care of, when they get started in the system, are they getting in the system early enough, are they being identified as high-risk?" she said.

The group hopes to get legislative funding for its work, though the costs aren't known yet.

The report card pointed to areas where the state could improve:

• Getting more women insured so they have timely access to care. The report showed nearly 19 percent of women ages 15 to 44 are uninsured in Utah, compared to 17 percent the year before.

• Urging women to quit smoking. The report says nearly 11 percent of women of childbearing age smoke.

• Utah has made improvements in reducing late preterm births, babies born up to six weeks early. Those births dropped to 8.2 percent last year, from 8.7 percent in 2010.

Some early births are unavoidable because the life of the mother or child is in danger. But some are due to the convenience of the mother or doctor.

Health organizations says it's best to remain pregnant until at least 39 weeks because the lungs and brain are still developing. A typical pregnancy last 40 weeks. —

Read the report card

O Find the analysis for Utah and other states. > http://bit.ly/urElS6