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Premature births: March of Dimes gives Minnesota a 'C,' North Dakota gets a 'D'

North Dakota has earned a "D" and Minnesota a "C" from a group aiming at lowering premature births across the country.

The states' grades are listed on the March of Dimes' first Premature Birth Report Card, released Wednesday.

The infant health advocacy group started the report card to track progress toward meeting a federal goal of lowering premature births by 2010.

"This is something we need to raise awareness of," Melany Jenkins, March of Dimes' associate director of program services in Fargo, said Wednesday. "We want everyone to be born healthy."

The report card gives the United States an overall grade of "D,' with the latest statistics showing the country had a premature birth rate of

12.7 percent in 2005, according to the March of Dimes.

More than half a million U.S. babies - 1 in every 8 - are born premature each year, a toll that's risen steadily for two decades. The government's goal: No more than 7.6 percent of babies born before completion of the 37th week of pregnancy.

No states earned an "A" grade on the report card, but Vermont was the lone state to earn a "B," with 9 percent of babies born prematurely in 2005, according to the report.

North Dakota's premature birth rate was 11.5 percent, and Minnesota's was 10.7 percent.

The report is calling for states to address factors that play a role in premature births, such as lack of health insurance and smoking rates among pregnant women.

"It affects the cost of health care for a child," Jenkins said of premature babies born with medical conditions and defects. "It contributes to increases in health insurance costs."

The rate of uninsured women in North Dakota, at 13.3 percent, could change because of the cost-cutting measures by businesses or by families who are struggling financially, said Kim Senn, director of North Dakota's health department division of family health. "Unfortunately, health care is where some people choose to make cuts."

The health department also is working on programs to reduce smoking among women. In North Dakota, 24.4 percent of pregnant women reported smoking.

There is a Memory Walk honoring premature babies that starts at 3 p.m. Saturday in Moorhead at the Veterans Memorial Bridge. A group of Minnesota State University Moorhead students, supporting the March of Dimes, is organizing it, Jenkins said.

The walk ends at the Fargo-Moorhead YMCA, 400 1st Ave. S. in Fargo, where a mother of quintuplets born prematurely will speak.