published on November 1, 2017 - 12:58 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Fresno County received a “C” on the 2017 March of Dimes Premature Birth Card. The county’s 10.1 percent preterm birth rate is the highest of 15 California counties reported. California’s overall preterm birth rate is slightly higher than it was one year ago at 8.6 percent.

Elsewhere in the Central Valley, 2015 ratings for Kings and Tulare County were found to have a grade of “B,” with preterm birth rates of 8.9 and 9.1 percent respectively. Madera County had an “A” with 8 percent.

Additionally, California faces significant disparities between racial groups. The preterm birth rate among black women is 46 percent higher than the rate among all other women. While race is not the cause of preterm birth, a woman’s race and where she lives can place her at higher risk.

“Social and environmental factors do impact the health of Fresno moms and babies,” said Shantay Davies, maternal child health director for the March of Dimes. “We must turn our focus to the disparities between ethnicities and race in our community before we can give every mom and baby a fair chance to be born healthy and thrive.”

The nation’s rate of preterm birth—the largest contributor to infant death in the United States—increased again in 2016 after nearly a decade of declines, earning the nation a grade of “C.” More than 380,000 babies are born preterm in the United States each year, facing a greater likelihood of death before their first birthday or lifelong disabilities and chronic health conditions. An additional 8,000 babies were born prematurely in 2016 from the increase in the preterm birth rate between 2015 and 2016.

“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 M. Stewart, president of 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.”

Premature births are ones that are before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health issues, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. In addition to the human toil, preterm birth accounts for more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine

“In addition to discovering new ways to prevent premature birth, and improve the care that women receive, it’s essential that we improve the broader social context for health,” said Dr. Paul E. Jarris, chief medical officer of the March of Dimes. “Only then will our nation be able to level the playing field for mothers and babies in every community.”

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