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The number of preterm births in the United States rose in 2015 for the first time in eight years, according to data presented Tuesday by the March of Dimes. Babies born too early face a risk of health complications that can last a lifetime.
The organization also reported that racial minorities continue to experience early labor at higher rates.
Preterm births increased from 9.57 to 9.63 percent of births in 2015, an additional 2,000 babies born prematurely in the U.S., the report found.
Seven states — Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah and Wisconsin — had higher preterm birth percentages than in 2014. Four states — Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington — earned the highest marks from the organization for having a preterm birth rate at 8.1 percent or below.
Overall, the national uptick earned the U.S. a C rating on an A to F scale. The March of Dimes researchers used data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics and assigned grades using a formula that compared the state's current prenatal birth rate to the national average in 2014 and the organization's goal of 8.1 percent.
Despite its wealth and medical prowess in saving the lives of premature newborns, the U.S. lags behind the majority of industrialized countries and some less developed ones in preventing their early arrival. According to the latest data available from the World Health Organization, the U.S in 2010 ranked in the middle of the pack, falling behind Somalia, Afghanistan and Thailand.
Lowering the rate of preterm births to 8.1 percent would place the U.S. among countries with the lowest rates of preterm births. The March of Dimes says the U.S. should reach this goal by 2020, but the lack of progress signals to Edward McCabe, the chief medical officer of the organization, that new responses are needed. "We feel that this is a recognition that we need to work harder as a nation, that we need to focus," he says.