Healthy Babies Challenge

Forty-eight states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have pledged their support to give more babies a healthy start in life by reducing premature birth and infant mortality, the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) announced today. One goal of the Healthy Babies Challenge is decreasing the country’s prematurity rates by 8 percent by the year 2014.

Nearly half a million babies, just less than 12 percent, are born too soon each year.  It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and others. Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm, and more than one million die each year.

Meeting the 2014 goal would lower the nation’s preterm birth to about 11 percent, and save about $2 billion in health care and socio-economic costs.

In addition to the physical and emotional challenges associated with prematurity, a 2005 Institute of Medicine report found that preterm birth and associated complications had cost the United States at least $26.2 billion that year. Reducing prematurity offers Healthy Babies Challenge participants the opportunity to save lives and reduce healthcare costs in their states.

From coast to coast, and without regard to politics, health officials in these 48 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico have signed on to help more babies get a healthy start in life.  Participating state health departments are partnering with the March of Dimes to address infant health needs, including helping more women quit smoking during pregnancy, promoting breastfeeding, increasing access to prenatal care, and conducting the “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” initiative with hospitals to educate the public about the health benefits carrying a baby full term.

In addition to ASTHO and the March of Dimes, many other organizations and agencies have funded and worked on programs with the common goal of improving birth outcomes. The Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs has long been a leader in the field; the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Healthy Start has been working to eliminate health disparities in child and maternal health for two decades; the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other agencies recently launched the Strong Start program to “reduce the risk of significant complications and long-term health problems for both expectant mothers and newborns;” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed maternal and child health as priorities in both Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020.

For more information on the Healthy Babies Challenge, read the full press release.