More babies in the state are being born too early. More than 1 in 10 North Carolina births were premature last year.
The state received a D on a report card issued Wednesday by the March of Dimes, placing it among the 15 states with the worst grades. The rate reached 10.4 percent in 2016, up from 9.7 percent in 2014, according to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit health organization working to prevent premature births.
Here’s what you should know about premature births in North Carolina.
Why it’s a problem
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There’s a connection between premature births and infant deaths, and the state has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.
Prematurity and low birth weight were the leading causes of infant death in the state in 2016, according to the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics. North Carolina was seventh in the nation in infant mortality in 2015, at 7.23 infant deaths per 1,000 births. It ranked eighth in 2014.
Babies born too early can face lifelong problems such as vision loss and intellectual delays.
A nationwide trend
Nationwide, the rate of premature births increased to 9.8 percent last year, from 9.6 percent in 2015.
“We see that preterm birth rates worsened in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and among all racial/ethnic groups,” March of Dimes President Stacey D. Stewart said in a statement. “This is an unacceptable trend that requires immediate attention.”
Many of the states with the worst grades from March of Dimes are in the Southeast.
Better in Wake
Premature birth rates got worse in 2015, the most recent year of available local data, in most of the state’s big counties – including Durham, Cumberland, Forsyth, Guilford and Mecklenburg. The rate improved in Wake County.
Black mothers are more likely than women of other races or ethnicities to give birth early. The rate for black women is 13.5 percent. The rate for white women is 9 percent. The rate for Native Americans is 11.2 percent.
Infant mortality for whites declined 12.3 percent from 2015 to 2016, while infant deaths increased 7.2 percent for African-Americans.
There are some regional distinctions. A cluster of a dozen counties in the northeastern part of the state had premature birth rates of more than 10.8 percent.
Experts said Wednesday the differences are connected to poverty, overall health, women getting health care before they become pregnant and other factors.
What to do
The state Department of Health and Human Services has a 12-point plan to reduce racial disparities that centers on improving health care for men and women, strengthening families and communities, and addressing social and economic inequities.