U.S. babies are being born pre-term, costing the economy
billions of dollars, but the good news is that fewer
teenagers are having babies and fewer young babies are
dying than ever before, according to two reports released
on Thursday. The two reports provide a snapshot of infancy
and early childhood in the United States, which ranks 23rd
among industrialized nations in infant mortality and has a
growing rate of premature births. One report, from the
Institute of Medicine, finds premature births in the
United States cost society at least $26 billion a year.
"In 2005, 12.5 percent of births in
the United States were preterm, a 30 percent increase over
1981 rates," the Institute, an independent group
that advises the federal government on medical issues,
said in a statement.
"Despite great strides in improving the survival of
infants born preterm, little is known about how preterm
births can be prevented," said Richard Behrman, executive
chair of the Pediatric Education Steering Committee in
California, who chaired the Institute panel.
The report said use of in-vitro fertilization and other
assisted reproductive technologies has risen dramatically
in the past 20 years. In addition, more older women are
having children. Both assisted fertility and older
childbearing raise the risk of multiple births and such
babies are often born early. "Among infants conceived
using these methods, 61.7 percent of twins and 97.2
percent of triplets and other 'higher-order' multiples
were born preterm," the Institute said.
These babies often spend weeks in neonatal intensive care
units and often have health problems as they grow older.
But the good news is their lives are being saved.
A second report, the Report on America's Children from the
National Institutes of Health, finds the U.S. infant
mortality rate declined to its former, lowest ever, level
after increasing the previous year.
In 2003, 6.8 babies out of every 1,000 died in their first
year, down from 7 per 1,000 in 2002.
"Advances in newborn care and technology have served to
offset the increase in low birthweight," said Dr. Duane
Alexander, Director of the NIH's National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development.
Low birthweight infants, those weighing less than 5.5
pounds (2.5 kg) at birth, made up
8.1 percent of births in 2004, up from 7.9 percent
"Today's report underscores the need to address premature
birth in our country with the same sense of urgency and
focus that has been brought to other threats to children's
health," said Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March
of Dimes, a charity with the primary mission of reducing
The NIH report found the adolescent birth rate fell to the
lowest level ever recorded in 2004 --
22.1 for every 1,000 women and
girls, down from 22.4 in 2003.
"From 1991 through 2004, the decline was especially
striking among Black, non-Hispanic teenagers; the rate for
this group dropped by more than half, from 86 to 37 births
per 1,000 females," the report reads. More unmarried women
are having babies, though, with the rate up from 45 per
1,000 unmarried women in 2003, to 46 per 1,000 in 2004.