- Texas’ pre-term birth rate rises to 10.6 percent, keeping it stuck at 'D' grade, though new initiatives show promise -

Texas’ pre-term birth rate in 2017 rose from 10.4 to 10.6 percent and the state stayed stuck at a “D” Grade, according to the 2018 Premature Birth Report Card from March of Dimes, the nation’s leading maternal and infant health nonprofit. For the third year in a row, more U.S. babies were born too soon with serious risks to their health. Premature birth and its complications are the largest contributor to death in the first year of life in the United States, and the leading cause of death of children under age 5 worldwide.

In Texas, as in many other states, health disparities within the African-American community is a key issue. The pre-term birth rate for African-American women in Harris County, for example, is at 15.5 percent – 1.5 times the rate for white women. Dallas’ pre-term birth rate decreased from 8.4 to 8.3 percent while Fort Worth’s stayed on last year’s higher level of 9.7 percent – clearly showing a “tale of two cities.” Of mothers who gave birth in Tarrant County, 7.9 percent did not receive prenatal care at all. From 2000 to 2015, there was a 92.4 percent increase of women in Tarrant County who received no prenatal care.

New programs have been launched by the March of Dimes and partners in Texas to address these inequities:

- Go Before You Show is a promising campaign that is being facilitated by both the Dallas and Fort Worth Maternal and Child Health Committees with the hope to increase utilization of timely prenatal care and turn this rate around.

- In Houston and Dallas, a new Health Disparities Resource Guide is educating communities about access to care issues that African-American women face by training partners to create dialogue about health disparities in their networks and organizations. Statewide, the Steering Committee for African-American Outreach has created the Health Disparities Resource Guide to train stakeholders on the issues on birth equity to influence community change. There have been six trainings across the state with more than 200 partners who have been trained on health disparities.

- Also in Houston, the March of Dimes created a Birth Equity Steering Committee of community leaders to work together to increase awareness among corporate partners and fund raise to support efforts around achieving Birth Equity.

- March of Dimes uses programs like Becoming a Mom and group prenatal care to educate and empower women in a group setting. CenteringPregnancy group prenatal care has proven to reduce pre-term birth rates with participants. Additionally, in an effort to expand group prenatal care, March of Dimes has created their own model called Supportive Pregnancy Care. This model, rolling out in Texas in 2019, will allow clinics a cost-effective and sustainable strategy to offering innovative group prenatal visits to the most vulnerable mothers.

The overall U.S. pre-term birth rate rose to 9.93 percent of births in 2017 from 9.85 percent in 2016, according to data. The March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card is based on final 2017 natality data from NCHS. Compared to 2016, pre-term birth rates in 2017 worsened in 30 states, stayed the same in six states, and improved in 16 states.

One state – Vermont – earned an “A” on the 2018 Premature Birth Report Card; 15 states received a “B”; 16 states got a “C”; 14 states (including Texas), Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia got a “D”; and four states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia) received an “F.”