Preterm births and infant mortality are at alarming levels in the U.S., according to a new report published on Thursday by March of Dimes. In 2022, 10.4% of all babies were born premature — before 37 weeks of gestation — a slight improvement after the decade-high 10.5% peak of 2021, but still higher than the global average of 9.9%. This makes the U.S. the country with the highest risk of preterm birth among its wealthy peers: In the U.K., for instance, the rate is 7.6%; in Italy, it’s 6.8%; in Japan, it was around 5%.
“This year’s report shows the state of infant and maternal health in the United States remains at crisis-level, with grave disparities that continue to widen the health equity gap,” said March of Dimes President and CEO Elizabeth Cherot, in a statement.
The crisis of preterm birth is more severe in Southern states, but is concerning all over the country. No states had a prematurity rate of 8.1% or below, and only a handful were below 9%.
In Mississippi, the state with the highest rate, 14.8% of children were born premature in 2022, while 13.2% were in Louisiana, 13% in West Virginia, and 12.8% in Alabama.
The geographic distribution of preterm birth rates also points to important racial and ethnic disparities: 14.6% of Black babies were born preterm, compared to 9.4% of white babies and 9% of Asian babies.
Preterm birth is responsible for nearly 16% of infant deaths. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the U.S. has a corresponding crisis with infant mortality, which increased 3% in 2022 from 2021, going from 5.44 infant deaths per 1,000 live births to 5.6. Much like the preterm birth rate, the U.S. infant mortality rate is much higher than in comparable countries. The distribution is also uneven among races and ethnicities: For Black babies, the mortality rate is 10.9 per 1,000 — almost 2.5 times the rate of white babies, according to the report.