The World Health Organization and other organizations released a report yesterday on global premature births. The U.S. ranking matches that of developing countries. In fact, the U.S. rate has increased by 30% since 1981 and the reasons are unclear.
European countries fare much better than the U.S., and Japan and Scandinavian countries perform considerably better. Out of 4.3 million live annual U.S. births, 12.03% are premature, with deaths from complications pegged at 5,800 per year. 15 countries account for two-thirds of the world’s pre-term births, with the U.S. ranked sixth in this group.
Some reasons to explain our poor rates of premature births are the high number of teenage pregnancies and women over 35 who give birth, particularly those with pregnancies that result in multiple births. Other uniquely American characteristics are our high rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking. Lack of health insurance coverage is another factor in premature births. While the U.S. numbers are similar to developing countries, underlying reasons are different. For example, developing countries have higher rates of pregnancies in younger adolescent populations and complications, such as infections, are more common.
However, these reasons do not fully explain the American experience. Even countries with similar rates of risk factors have lower rates of premature births. Hopefully, this report will spur further study of problem in the U.S.
-Jaime Venditti, 5/3/12