Michigan hits highest premature birth rate in a decade

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News
In 2017, Detroit had the America's highest rate of babies who are born too soon among large cities, according to a March of Dimes report.

Michigan's preterm birth rate has increased slightly for the fifth consecutive year in 2017,  according to the March of Dimes, inching toward the state's highest percentage of babies born too soon in a decade.

Michigan maintained a “C” grade on the March of Dimes' annual Premature Birth Report Card, with an increase in the preterm birth rate from 10.1 percent in 2016 to 10.2 percent  in 2017. That's the highest rate since 2008, when 10. 5 percent of the babies born arrived too soon. 

The rate dipped to a low of 9.7 percent in 2013, but has climbed every year since.

Detroit had the nation's highest preterm birth rate among America's largest cities in 2016, with 14.5 percent of babies born too soon. The rate declined slightly to 14.3 percent in 2017, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. A national ranking ranking of cities' preterm birth rates is not yet available for 2017.

The March of Dimes' analysis is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics.  Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy risk serious complications or death. Preterm birth is the largest contributor to infant mortality in the United States and is the leading cause of death for children 5 and younger worldwide. 

Grades are assigned by comparing each state or city with the March of Dimes' goal of lowering rates to 8.1 percent by 2020. Detroit earned an F.

"The preterm birth rates in Michigan and Detroit have been relatively stable over the last several years," said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

"The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has and continues to focus numerous resources to help prevent preterm births including increasing the number of pregnant women enrolled in home visiting and engaging in early prenatal care," Sutfin added. "In addition, the state is in the process of finalizing the Mother Infant Health and Equity Improvement Plan, which has a vision of zero preventable deaths and zero health disparities."   

The March of Dimes calculated rates for the report as the number of preterm births divided by the number of live births with known gestational age multiplied by 100.

The increases in Michigan are part of a national trend.  The overall preterm birth rate in the country increased for the third year in a row, from 9.85 percent in 2016 to 9.93 percent last year. 

The increases are tied to deepening health disparities across Michigan and nationwide, said Kara Hamilton-McGraw, director of maternal child health and government affairs for March of Dimes Michigan. Race and ethnicity, and factors such as income, education and marital status affect pregnancy outcomes.

In Michigan, the preterm birth rate among African-American women, at 13.9 percent, is 54 percent higher than the rate among all other women.

In Detroit, 41 percent of residents live at or below the federal poverty level, and nearly 50 percent of families with children spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.  While data shows that a lack of spousal support is a risk factor for premature birth, 80 percent of babies in Detroit are born to unmarried mothers.  

"We’ve seen a large increase in racial and ethnic disparity as a driver of preterm childbirth rates across the United States and definitely in Michigan," Hamilton-McGraw said. 

"There’s a lot of discussion and a lot of thought and work being put behind social determinants of health, factors in the life span that can influence health outcomes that aren’t necessarily addressed in the health care model — for example, homelessness," she added. 

"If a woman does not have a home, her first priority may not be getting her prenatal care vitamins and getting to her monthly appointments," Hamilton-McGraw said.


Twitter: @kbouffardDN


Michigan's preterm birth rates

Grades are based on each county's progress toward the March of Dimes' goal of reducing preterm births to 8.1 percent of babies born live by 2020.

Genesee County

Grade: F

Rate: 12.4 %

Progress: Improved

Kent County

Grade: C

Rate: 9.9 %

Progress: Worsened

Macomb County

Grade: D

Rate: 10.7 %

Progress: Worsened

Oakland County

Grade: C

Rate: 10.1 %

Progress: Worsened

Washtenaw County

Grade: C

Rate: 10 percent

Progress: Improved

Wayne County

Grade: F

Rate: 11.5%

Progress: Worsened