Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Nevada's premature birth rate is one of the worst in the country, according to a new report released Friday.
The nonprofit March of Dimes annually issues premature-birth report cards for the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Three main factors determine a state’s grade: the percentage of uninsured women, the premature birth rate and the percentage of women who smoke.
Nevada scored a “D” grade on the report card this year with a preterm birth rate of 13 percent, tying with Oklahoma, according to the report. Nationally, the preterm birth rate, which represents the share of babies born before 39 weeks, is 11.5 percent.
Vermont had the lowest preterm birth rate nationally at 8.7 percent. Mississippi had the highest at 17.1 percent.
The stages of premature births
• Early-preterm birth: before 34 weeks
• Late-preterm birth: between 34 and 37 weeks
• Early-term birth: between 37 and 39 weeks
• Full-term birth: over 39 weeks
Nevada, which also scored a “D” last year, is one of six states that received a “D” this year. Three states and Puerto Rico received an “F.” The Silver State — which ranks 45th nationally — fared better than Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
The report showed that premature birth rates disproportionately affect women and children of different races. In Nevada, minority women and children are more likely than white women and children to suffer from premature births.
Black women have the highest preterm birth rate at 17.7 percent, followed by Asian, Native American and Hispanic women. White women have a preterm birth rate of 11.6 percent, which is closer to the national average.
Nevada has been improving steadily on the report card over the past six years, according to Laura Ritz, chairwoman of the Nevada chapter of March of Dimes.
In the nonprofit’s inaugural report, Nevada scored an “F.” Since 2007, Nevada improved to a “D” as its preterm birth rate declined by 10 percent, keeping with the national trend.
“The 'D' (grade) is definitely not where we want to be, but we made quite a bit of progress,” Ritz said. “We’re making progress each year, but we need to do better. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Several factors contributed to Nevada's improvement, according to the March of Dimes report.
Nevada improved on two factors: its late preterm-birth rate (the share of babies born between 34 and 37 weeks) and the percentage of women who smoke. However, the state fared worse in the number of women who don’t have health insurance.
Here’s what the data show:
• Nevada’s share of late-preterm births declined from 9.7 percent in 2011 to 9.4 percent in 2012.
• The percentage of Nevada women who smoke dropped significantly, from more than a fifth of the population to 14.7 percent in 2012. Quitting smoking can reduce a woman’s risk of premature birth.
• The percentage of uninsured women increased from 28 percent in 2011 to 29.7 percent in 2012. Nevada has one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents in the country.
Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. The United States ranks among the lowest in the number of preterm births: 131st out of 180 countries — on par with countries such as Somalia, Thailand and Turkey, Ritz said.
Babies who are born too early can suffer from mild issues such as breathing and feeding problems or more severe ailments, such as chronic lung disease, learning disabilities, developmental delays and neurological problems such as cerebral palsy.
Severely premature babies also are less likely to survive, said Stephen Wold, the clinical director of the High Risk Pregnancy Center in Las Vegas.
“The earlier the baby is delivered, the more severe the complications,” Wold said.
For years, American women were taught that a baby born at 37 weeks is full term, but more recent research shows that infants born at 37 weeks haven’t finished developing their lungs and brains. Women are now being taught to wait until at least 39 weeks to have a cesarean section or induced labor.
Comprehensive sex education, more widespread health care coverage and anti-smoking campaigns could help lower Nevada’s premature birth rate, health officials said.
Increasing funding for postnatal care and research to help premature babies would also help, officials said.
March of Dimes, which raises money for research to prevent and treat the effects of premature births, stressed boosting prevention efforts — particularly prenatal health care for expectant mothers.
Women who are trying to get pregnant should get a checkup, and once pregnant they should attend all baby appointments to help doctors detect complications quickly. Women who undergo in vitro fertilization should take special care because they are more likely to have premature births.
“One of the biggest things we can push to prevent preterm birth is early prenatal care,” Wold said. “Early prenatal care improves outcomes.”
Every year, more than a half-million babies are born prematurely in the United States. That's 1 in 9 births, according to March of Dimes.
Premature births are estimated to cost more than $26 billion in health care each year across the country, according to a 2006 study from the Institute of Medicine.