WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
July 9, 2010 -- The rate of premature births has dropped slightly for the second year in a row, according to a new federal report.
What is more, the rate of births to teens also has declined, the study shows.
The report, "America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2010," finds that in the period 2007-2008:
"The decline in preterm births is encouraging," Alan E. Guttmacher, MD, acting director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development, says in a news release. "Preterm infants are at higher risk for death in the first year of life, for serious illness in infancy, and in later life, for obesity and its associated complications."
Edward Sondik, PhD, director of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, says in the same news release that the decline in births to teens is significant because it occurred after two years of increases.
The report also shows improvements in children's education, including higher reading and math scores for eighth graders. In the period from 2007 to 2009:
Guttmacher said in a telephone news briefing that the federal report presents 40 indicators of child well-being, including family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health.
He says the drop in preterm births was mostly in later pregnancy -- those that occur at 34-36 weeks of gestation.
He says it's unclear why the rate of preterm births dropped, but that this matter is being investigated with a view toward further reducing the preterm birth rate.
Sondik says the decline in preterm births was seen in each of the three largest racial and ethnic groups, and that though small, "even a slight decrease in preterm birth is positive."
Despite improvements, however, he says about 136,000 babies were born to mothers 15-27 in 2008.
The research also sheds light on trends for unmarried mothers:
"Looking at the data by income status for children in poverty, the percentage with untreated cavities was twice that of children who lived in families with incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level," Sondik says. "However, the percentage with untreated cavities declined across the board for all income levels."
The obesity rate for children today is triple what it was from 1976 to 1980, Sondik says.
He also points out that the percentage of teens who regularly smoke cigarettes is at its lowest level since data collection began in 1980.
In 2009, less than 3% of eighth graders reported smoking cigarettes every day, down from 10% in the mid-1990s. He says 6% of 10th graders smoked in 2009, about a third the rate of the mid-1990s, and 11% of 12th graders smoked daily, down from 25% in 1997.
In 2008, the researchers say, 90% of young adults had a high school diploma or an equivalent credential, up from 84% in 1980.
SOURCES:News release, National Institutes of Health.Alan Guttmacher, MD, acting director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.Edward Sondik, PhD, director, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.
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