WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., SEPT. 8, 2005 -- Nearly a half million Americanbabies were born prematurely in a single year, according to agovernment report issued today, putting them at increased risk fordeath and disability.
Some 12.3 percent of all babies -- 499,008 infants -- were bornprematurely (less than 37 weeks gestation) in 2003, according to thereport released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).That's up from 12.1 percent (or about 480,000 babies) in 2002 -- and anincrease of more than 30 percent since the government began trackingpremature births in 1981. The prematurity rate was 9.4 in 1981; it hasincreased every year since then except for slight dips in 1992 and2000.
"Prematurity is the number one killer of newborns. We seefrom these latest statistics that the prematurity crisis in thiscountry continues to intensify, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrinawill only make it worse, " said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of theMarch of Dimes. "Babies are dying and those who survive are too oftenleft with devastating consequences -- such as cerebral palsy, mentalretardation, learning problems and blindness."
The March of Dimes began its multi-year campaign to address thegrowing rate of premature birth in 2003. The campaign educates women onthe signs and symptoms of premature birth, and supports more researchinto the causes of premature labor. One of the goals of the campaign isto help the nation reach the goal set by the U.S. Public Health Serviceof reducing the rate of premature birth to 7.6 percent by 2010.
The NCHS report, entitled "Births Final Data for 2003" appeared in the National Vital Statistics Report, volume 54, number 2.
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whosemission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects,premature birth and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March ofDimes funds programs of research, community services, education, andadvocacy to save babies. For more information, visit the March of DimesWeb site at marchofdimes.com or its Spanish language Web site at nacersano.org.
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