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Premature Births Cost United States $26 Billion a Year

Institute of Medicine report suggests infertility treatments are part of the problem

FRIDAY, July 14 (HealthDay News) -- The growing number of premature births in the United States cost at least $26 billion a year, a new Institute of Medicine report states, and physicians should weigh the risk of infertility treatments that often lead to problematic multiple births.

In 2005, 12.5 percent of all infants born in America were born at least three weeks ahead of their delivery date, according to the study. And although infertility treatments are responsible for some of that percentage, the researchers note that they are still at a loss to explain why there are significant racial and ethnic differences in premature birth rates. In 2003, the preterm birth rate for black women was 17.8 percent, versus 11.5 percent for white women and 11.9 percent for Hispanic women.

"The rate of preterm births has increased by more than 30 percent since 1981," said Richard Behrman, M.D., chairman of the committee that wrote the report and executive chairman of the pediatric education steering committee of the Federation of Pediatric Organizations. "Infants delivered preterm are at greater risk for a variety of health and developmental problems. The birth of a preterm baby can result in emotional and economic costs for both families and communities," Behrman said.

The report, which was made public Thursday, offered a detailed, multidisciplinary agenda to address the problem. In conjunction with the release of the report, the March of Dimes called for passage of federal legislation to address the issue.

Pediatricians wholeheartedly endorsed the program. "It's a great agenda item for the country, because if children are disabled, they have a significant impact on society," said Adam Aponte, M.D., medical director of North General Hospital's Diagnostics and Treatment Center in New York City.

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