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Press Release

For Immediate Release: March 16, 1999
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

New CDC Data Show Preterm Births Down Among African Americans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report today showing a decline in the number of African American single-birth babies (those that are not born as multiples, meaning twins or more) being born prematurely. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death among African American infants, and infants born prematurely are at risk of chronic lung disease, vision and hearing problems, delays in physical and mental growth, and cerebral palsy.

"While we are pleased to see a decrease in the preterm birth rate among African American women, African American infants are still twice as likely to be born too early compared to white infants, says Dr. Lucinda England, a CDC scientist and author of the report. ?We still have a lot to learn about what causes preterm births. Once we discover the causes, we can do more to decrease the rate of preterm delivery among African American women even further."

One possible explanation for the decrease in preterm births could be that more African American women are seeking prenatal care during their pregnancies. CDC is conducting studies exploring the causes of preterm births among African American women.

Racial health disparities such as in the area of infant mortality are a major health policy focus of the Clinton administration, which last year, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched the Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health. Infant mortality is one of six health areas designated by this Initiative for the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities by the year 2010.

This report looked only at babies who were born singly between 1989 and 1996. Babies who are born as part of "multiple" births are more likely to be born preterm. Increasing numbers of these multiple births are contributing to an increase in the preterm birth rate for all races.

There are some things women can do to help prevent preterm births:

  • Be as healthy as possible when they become pregnant.
  • See a health care provider as soon as they know they are pregnant and continue to go for check-ups during the pregnancy.

A preterm birth is one that occurs when a baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.


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