Babies in Arkansas are more likely to be born prematurely than in most other states, according to a report released Monday by the March of Dimes. It gives Arkansas a grade of F based on measurements of maternal and children's health.
Data from 2018 shows 11.6% of Arkansas babies were born three or more weeks before their due date, an increase of 0.2% over the previous year. The national rate is 10% and only four other states have a higher preterm birth rate.
Faith Sharp, with March of Dimes, said many Arkansas mothers lack access to pre-natal care.
"We have 34 out of our 75 counties that are considered maternal health deserts, which means there are no birthing or [OB-GYN] hospitals within a certain area in that county."
Tracey Simmons, the Nursery Alliance Coordinator at Arkansas Children's Hospital said age of the mother also contributes to the state’s low grade.
"One of the main factors of why our premature birthrate is so high is because we have the highest teen birthrate in the country. So even though teen births are declining across the country, and including Arkansas has seen some declines, we are still highest. The reason why that's important is because teen births is a risk factor for premature births," Simmons said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are at greater risk of developing hearing or vision problems and having other developmental disabilities. The March of Dimes report says the rate of preterm births in Arkansas is highest among black women, at 14.8%, and lowest among Hispanic women at 8.9%.
Legislation passed earlier this year in Arkansas plans to address these issues through the creation of a maternal mortality review committee. The committee could help health providers coordinate statewide efforts by gathering statewide data related to maternal mortality.