Premature Births Up

One in eight children born in 2004 were premature, and one in 12 had low birthweight, the highest rates ever recorded, according to two new studies, reports the Los Angeles Times. The price tag for the nation is some $26 billion, since most of these babies not only need hospitalization but also often have long-term problems, such as cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and neurological problems.

Why is this happening? The experts don’t know for sure. But what’s clear is that there is a racial/ethnic angle here: just 11.5% of births to white mothers were premature, compared to 17.8% of African American mothers. There are similar disparities for low birth weight. What’s even worse, though, is that while medical technology helps more babies survive, there are still more than twice as many deaths of babies born to black mothers than to white mothers.

Some of the experts quoted also say that increased use of fertility treatment and more older mothers-like me-having babies contributes to the problem. But this doesn’t seem to jibe with the stark contrast for outcomes by race and ethnicity.

The studies cited come from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.