Press Room

Mixed Progress on Preventing Preterm Births Concerns State and Territorial Health Officials

ARLINGTON, VA (Nov. 1, 2017)—Today, the March of Dimes released its 2017 Premature Birth Report Card, which found that few states have lowered prematurity rates, and in some states, prematurity rates have increased among all racial/ethnic groups. Preterm birth remains disproportionally higher among African-American women and minority groups.

"Preventing preterm births is vital for healthier babies and mothers. Such births have both short-term and long-term negative impacts, and disproportionately impact women of color. We must do more to address this problem and think beyond simply the doctor's office or a prenatal visit. We must work to reach women in their communities and look at the social determinants of health—the conditions in which we live, work, and play,” says Karyl Rattay, MD, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health and chair of ASTHO’s Healthy Babies Subcommittee. “These determinants can have a significant impact not only on women's access to care, but also increase their risk for preterm birth."

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) remains committed to helping states and territories reduce prematurity rates. Preterm birth, a complex, multifaceted issue without a single solution, is the largest contributor to infant death in the United States.

“As a country, we have made many strides toward improving access to care for pregnant women and children and reducing non-medically necessary early elective deliveries. But the slight increase in some states’ preterm birth rate is a call for all of us to collectively redouble our efforts,” says Michael Fraser, ASTHO’s executive director. “This report card provides data that should spur continued efforts to reduce preterm birth and further address racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities. As Congress debates funding for our nation’s public health and prevention programs, I hope they do not forget to prioritize the neediest among us—our children—as well as support state and territorial health programs.”

Infants born before 37 weeks gestation are more likely to die or experience long-term negative health outcomes and lifelong morbidity. Most preterm infants have a low birth weight, which places the infant at greater risk for developing chronic health conditions as an adult, such as diabetes, which in turn becomes a future risk factor for preterm birth. Other potential health impacts of premature births include breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, and intellectual delays. There are many reasons why preterm births occur, including access to healthcare, even in a time of expanded coverage, as well as unplanned or closely spaced pregnancies, and environmental concerns in communities. State and territorial health departments work daily to improve the health of mothers and babies and create conditions to achieve optimal health for all.

To learn more about how states are working to improve birth outcomes, view ASTHO’s Healthy Babies map.


ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and freely associated states, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.