The percentage of premature births in the United States is no better than most developing countries

Fifteen million babies are born prematurely each year, and the United States fared badly in the first country-by-country global comparison of premature births…released by the World Health Organization and other agencies.

Although American hospitals excel at saving premature infants, the United States is similar to developing countries in the percentage of mothers who give birth before their children are due, the study’s chief author noted. It does worse than any Western European country and considerably worse than Japan or the Scandinavian countries.

That stems from the unique American combination of many pregnant teenagers and many women older than 35 who are giving birth, sometimes to twins or triplets implanted after in vitro fertilization…often deliberately delivered early by Caesarean section to avoid the unpredictable risks of vaginally delivering multiple full-term babies.

Also, many American women of childbearing age have other risk factors for premature birth, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking habits. And the many women who lack health insurance often do not see doctors early in their pregnancies, when problems like high blood pressure or genital infections can be headed off…

The report, three years in the making, is the first to compare premature birthrates in 184 countries. It was produced jointly by the W.H.O., Save the Children, the March of Dimes and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which has more than 400 member organizations. Other contributors include nearly 40 major American, European and United Nations health and foreign aid agencies and foundations…

The rate in the United States has risen 30 percent since 1981

In his study of 2,100 Mexican-Americans and immigrants from Mexico, Dr. Radek K. Bukowski, an expert on preterm birth at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, found that the longer a woman lived in this country, the greater her chances of giving birth prematurely. The risk was 4 percent for recent immigrants, 7 percent for those living here less than a decade and 10 percent for citizens.

Even after controlling for risk factors like age, poverty, smoking, obesity and diabetes, “we really don’t have an explanation for what’s behind it,” Dr. Bukowski said. “But whatever it is, it’s not genetic. It’s something they acquire here.”

As the researchers said, it’s time for more study.

I don’t see any problem getting the research done. As usual, if government intervention is needed whether for essential education or repairing a defect in the system – unless we sort out an incompetent Congress and non-leadership from the White House nothing will be accomplished.

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