Durham County

Premature birth report card gives North Carolina a ‘D’ — How did Durham, Orange do?

Although race is not a cause of preterm birth, African-American women have a 49 percent higher preterm rate compared to white women, according to the March of Dimes’ Premature Birth Report Card.
Although race is not a cause of preterm birth, African-American women have a 49 percent higher preterm rate compared to white women, according to the March of Dimes’ Premature Birth Report Card. Submitted

North Carolina has received a grade of “D” for its rate of premature births in 2016, according to a March of Dimes report.

North Carolina’s preterm birth rate was 10.4 percent, a slight increase from 10.2 in 2015, according to the report.

The March of Dimes gives “A” grades to states that have a preterm birth rate of 8.1 percent or lower. It defines premature birth as less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, compared to the average of 40 weeks. Premature birth is the largest contributor to infant death in the United States, according to the report.

Overall, the United States earned a “C” for a premature birth rate of 9.8 percent. The rate nationally rose for a second year in a row, after nearly a decade of decline.

More than 380,000 babies are born preterm in the U.S. each year, facing a greater likelihood of death before their first birthday, lifelong disabilities or chronic health conditions, the report states. An additional 8,000 babies were born prematurely in 2016 due to the increase in the preterm birth rate between 2015 and 2016, the March of Dimes stated.

Although North Carolina received a “D,” the grade for individual counties for which numbers were available varied. Durham received a “C” for a premature rate of 10.2 percent. The report stated that Durham’s rate had worsened. Wake County got a “C” for its rate of 9.3 percent, but the report stated that the county’s rate had improved.

Chatham County had a rate of 9.4 percent, for a “C,” and Orange County had a rate of 8.2 percent, for a “B.”

“The 2017 March of Dimes Report Card demonstrates that moms and babies in this country face a higher risk of preterm birth based on race and zip code,” said Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes. ”We see that preterm birth rates worsened in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and among all racial/ethnic groups. This is an unacceptable trend that requires immediate attention.”

“The March of Dimes is dedicated to giving every baby a fair chance for a healthy start in life, and our work is more vital than ever,” Stewart said.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that the state’s infant mortality rate dipped by 1.4 percent in 2016 to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births. That marked a decrease from the 2015 rate of 7.3 infant deaths per 1,000 births. That report included all live births, including premature births.

The U.S. preterm birth rate went up from 9.6 percent of births in 2015 to 9.8 percent in 2016, according to final data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The March of Dimes used the National Center numbers to calculate the rates for its report. Across the country, black women are 49 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women. American Indian/Alaska Native women are 18 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women.

In North Carolina, black women had a preterm rate of 13.5 percent, 53 percent higher than all other women in the state, the report stated.

To decrease premature births, the March of Dimes has joined with universities across the country to establish five Prematurity Research Centers. Duke University (with Northwestern University and the University of Chicago) is part of a center that is examining the impact of maternal stress on the timing of birth.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that advocates for pregnancy and baby health. For nearly 80 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and other breakthroughs.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

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