SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwired - November 05, 2015) - Premature birth is now the leading global cause of death for children under five years old. The United States preterm birth rate was 9.6 percent in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and ranks among the worst in high-resource countries. California, where the preterm birth rate was 8.3 percent in 2014, lower than the national rate of 9.6 percent, had the fifth-lowest in the country. November is Prematurity Awareness Month and today, March of Dimes released its eighth annual Premature Birth Report Card. "This year's Report Card is disappointing because it shows clear health disparities -- not all families are equally benefiting from recent progress in reducing preterm birth rates. We need to address the serious preterm birth inequities between regions and races within California," said March of Dimes State Program Services Committee Chair Dr. James Byrne, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and clinical professor at Stanford School of Medicine. "Despite seven years of declines in California's overall preterm birth rate due, in part, to significant reductions in early elective deliveries, improved access to health care and aggressive smoking cessation initiatives -- progress is not victory."

California, with the highest number of births and one of the most diverse populations in the country, earned a "B" grade on the Report Card ( For the first time, March of Dimes graded cities with the greatest number of births to highlight serious disparities between communities. There are large gaps in the preterm rate between California communities. The only large California city to receive an "A" is Oxnard. At 7.8 percent, its preterm birth rate is the lowest among large cities in the country. Only Portland, Ore. has a lower rate at 7.2 percent. Two large Central Valley cities, where one in ten babies is born preterm, Stockton and Fresno, are graded a "C". Los Angeles, a city that has one of the country's highest number of births, also has one of the state's highest preterm birth rates at 9.3 percent and receives a "C" grade.

Even more disturbing are the racial disparities in preterm birth. March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card highlights and benchmarks, persistent, significant birth inequities among racial and ethnic groups. "The preterm birth rates in the African American community are staggering," said Dr. Diana Ramos, March of Dimes National Hispanic Advisory Council Member and State Program Services Committee Vice Chair. "In California, the African American preterm birth rate is nearly 50 percent higher than the white community - nearly 1 in 8 babies. In addition, African American babies are more than 2.5 times as likely as white babies to die before their first birthdays."

"In Fresno County, the effects of region and race are compounded: the African American community has the highest preterm birth rate at 15.5 percent. African Americans also experience the highest infant mortality rate - nearly four times higher than the lowest rate in the Asian community," said Dr. Beni Adeniji, March of Dimes Central Valley Division board member and perinatologist at Valley Children's Hospital. "Three of the four worst preterm birth rates in California are cities located in the Central Valley."

In 2015, March of Dimes, in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health, convened a statewide Prematurity Leadership Council that is working on statewide strategies to reduce preterm births in the African American community. This council builds on March of Dimes 2014 success in leading a coalition of more than 50 organizations to restore $4 million in funding for the Black Infant Health (BIH) Program to the 2015 fiscal state budget. This vital program, in addition to supporting medical care, more fully addresses the factors that impact African American mothers, including social, economic and racial stresses. March of Dimes is training Black Infant Health community outreach workers at the state and regional level on the Healthy Babies, Healthy Futures program. March of Dimes specifically created this culturally appropriate, peer-education program for the African American community. The program trains volunteers to share messages about healthy pregnancy and prematurity prevention with small groups in churches and other settings, raising awareness about African American birth outcome disparities.

"These health inequities are unjust and unfair," said Leslie Kowalewski, March of Dimes Associate State Director for California. "March of Dimes recognizes solving this complex, heart-wrenching and costly health crisis requires a huge collaborative effort. We are approaching it from all angles including research with the new "team science" approach at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, as well as research grants to other top universities. We are also advocating for the health of moms and babies and working at the grassroots level to educate health workers who are in direct contact with women of child-bearing age with the best prevention methods we have to-date. This month we will launch "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait" in hard-hit San Bernardino County. This is a proven community-driven program to reduce preterm birth. There is also a conference taking place in Los Angeles focused on the African American health disparities. This collaborative conference of community stakeholders will address the real hard issues: race, institutionalized racism, and overcoming childhood trauma."

City Preterm Birth Rate Grade City Preterm Birth Rate
Oxnard 7.8% A Riverside
San Francisco
Oakland 8.2% B Long Beach 8.7% C
Santa Ana 8.3% B Bakersfield 9.3% C
San Diego 8.3% B Los Angeles 9.3% C
San Jose 8.3% B Stockton 10.2% C
Sacramento 8.5% B Fresno 10.2% C
Cities with the greatest number of births are graded based on their 2013 preterm birth rates.
Preterm birth is less than 37 weeks gestation based on the obstetric estimate of gestational age. Source: National Center for Health Statistics, 2013 final natality data. Prepared by March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center, September 2015

According to March of Dimes, about half of premature births happen for unknown causes. Even if a woman has done everything right during her pregnancy, she can go into premature labor and give birth early. March of Dimes recommends ten steps women can take to reduce preterm birth risk, such as to quit smoking, get to a healthy weight prior to pregnancy and birth spacing. The complete list, including signs of preterm labor, is available here

Supporting materials, including a summary of key March of Dimes activities in California, "Preterm Birth Rates of Top 100 Cities with the Most Births in United States," "March of Dimes Preterm Birth Report Card for California," additional graphics, e-media and fact sheets with geographically specific information can be found in the March of Dimes California news room Broadcast quality NICU b-roll also available for download. For national report card information visit here:

About March of Dimes

The March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Each year nearly 4,000,000 babies are born in the United States and March of Dimes touches each one of them through research, education, community programs, support, and advocacy. March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. Premature birth costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. For the latest resources and information, visit For resources in Spanish, visit Find March of Dimes on Facebook and follow on Twitter. A wealth of educational video resources is available on the March of Dimes YouTube channel.

About March of Dimes California

In 2015 the March of Dimes funded 26 research grants totaling $6 million to California research institutions including UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and $4 million to the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, the first of five national trans-disciplinary research centers. In 2015, March of Dimes legislative advocacy efforts resulted in 8 new bills being passed with a focus on helping all babies have a healthy start in life. More than $300,000 in community service grant funds is being distributed to local California organizations in support of March of Dimes mission. Fundraising events held in California, such as: the annual March for Babies® walks, Signature Chefs Auctions®; and March of Dimes Celebration of Babies®: A Hollywood Luncheon; raise millions of dollars to fund research, advocacy, community programs, education, and support for moms, babies and families in our communities. Follow March of Dimes, California efforts on Facebook and Twitter.

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Contact Information:

Sacramento and Bay Area Inquiries:
Heather Atherton
Atherton PR

(916) 316-4568

Inland Empire and San Diego Inquiries:
Vince Heald
Beck Ellman Heald


State, Fresno and Los Angeles Inquiries:

Elizabeth Williams
March of Dimes, California Chapter

(415) 217-6371