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VOL. 123 | NO. 228 | Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tennessee Works to Lower Premature Births

By JUANITA COUSINS | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee officials say they were aware of the state's high premature birth rate before the March of Dimes gave it a failing grade and they are working toward higher marks.

Tennessee was among 18 states that received an "F'' last week when the March of Dimes released its state-by-state report card to track progress toward meeting a federal goal of lowering pre-term births.

Rashonda Lewis, director of the Women's Health Initiative in the Office of Children's Care Coordination, said the state has spent $16 million since 2006 on programs to aid "underserved" expecting mothers with prenatal care, smoking cessation and baby health.

The March of Dimes report asked states to address the top factors in premature births: lack of insurance, mothers who smoke and babies born between 34 and 37 weeks. The state already is working on them, Lewis said, but it will take time to see dramatic changes.

"For several years, Tennessee has been on the bottom and it is going to take some time to move the needle. This is an issue that needs to remain on the radar," Lewis said.

Tennessee's pre-term birth rate is 14.7 per 1,000 live births, compared to the national rate of 12.7. The federal government aims to reduce the rate to 7.6 percent by 2010.

"This is something we have been aware of for many years and that is a statistic that we are not very proud of," said state Rep. John Deberry, chairman of the House Children and Family Affairs Committee. "We knew were going to get a bad grade."

Deberry said Tennessee should receive a passing grade from the March of Dimes within five years.

The majority of state prenatal programs are in Shelby, Davidson and Hamilton counties, where premature birth rates are the highest, Lewis said.

The Centering Pregnancy program is a support group in which pregnant women meet with doctors 10 times before their babies are born for physical check ups, self-care help and discussions on nutrition, stress and relationships. The program, which began last year, is meant to improve the number of prenatal visits. It has served more than 60 women at nine sites throughout the state. Clinical research shows these women were 30 percent less likely to deliver pre-term, Lewis said.

Common Voice, a five-week health education program operated with the March of Dimes, has trained more than 150 volunteers who have reached 1,000 West Tennessee residents through workshops and health fairs with information on how to care for babies.

Tennessee Intervention for Pregnancy Smoking is targeting 4,200 pregnant women and has helped about 30 percent of participants quit smoking and about 70 percent reduce their smoking, Lewis said.

Also in the works are four Fetal Infant Mortality Review Teams to study premature births and infant deaths, identify common factors and make recommendations for changes in legislation.

"Infant mortality and premature births are a multi-pronged problem and we are doing what we can to address them," Lewis said. "We want to make these programs succeed."

___

On the Net:

March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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