Missouri’s recent preterm birth grade reflects the amount of work that still needs to be done, said Gabe Hulsey, co-chair of the 2018 March for Babies.
The recent report from the March of Dimes gave the state a C grade, with 10.2 percent of live births in Missouri premature — a slight increase from 2015’s 10 percent.
That means a child is born prematurely in one in every 10 births, and Missouri has hovered around that number for the past 10 years.
The preterm birth rate in the United States increased 2 percent to 9.8 percent in 2016, according to the March of Dimes.
The report also measures prematurity among racial and ethnic groups and by maternal age, noting the preterm birth rate among black women in Missouri is 52 percent higher than the rate among all other women, and women over 40 have the highest incidence of preterm births at 13.8 percent.
“There are a lot of areas that we as a society can continue to get better in,” Hulsey said. “And through advocacy, education and research, I believe March of Dimes has taken the lead on this issue.”
March of Dimes works through research to end premature birth and other health issues facing babies, also its events raise funds for the organization. Jefferson City’s 2018 March for Babies is scheduled for April 28 at Memorial Park.
On June 28, 2006, Hulsey’s wife gave birth prematurely to their first child, a daugher named Hope, who died shortly after. Hope suffered from anencephaly, where the baby’s cranium and brain are underdeveloped. Later, they learned her body had not been digesting folic acid properly throughout the pregnancy, which contributed to the early delivery.
“(Premature birth) is a silent epidemic that not many people know about,” Hulsey said. “Since we got involved in the organization in 2007, we have become more educated, gathered tremendous networks, and we know more about what can go wrong with the body.”
In addition to advocacy efforts led by the Central Missouri chapter, March of Dimes has five research centers across the country, including one in Missouri at Washington University in St. Louis.
Moving forward, Hulsey said, he would like to see an increase in corporate involvement from businesses and individuals offering their time and talent, as well as more funding resources to help identify causes of premature birth.
“I have no doubt that if we put our time and resources into this issue we can find a solution as to why preterm births happen,” Hulsey said. “There needs to be a social and economic consideration for employers as to why they should get involved — because realistically it’s their employees who may be going through this.”
The March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Cards for all 50 states are available at marchofdimes.org/mission/prematurity-reportcard.aspx.