Florida's premature birth rate among worst in the country

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An annual report card on premature births is out and Florida is not at the head of the class. 

The state as a whole got a grade of C on the report prepared by the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center.

According to that report, one in ten babies born in Florida is considered premature, being born before the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy.

The national average for premature births is 9.9 percent. Florida's was 10.2 percent.

Worldwide, premature birth complications are the leading cause of death in children under age 5.

Over the years Florida's rates had been improving. But the state's average has been worsening since 2015.

The only state in the country to get an A was Vermont. 

Four states got an F including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia. 

There were a couple of bright spots in the Bay Area. Sarasota and Pinellas counties got a B rating on the report. Hillsborough, Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, and Polk counties all got Cs.

Highlands and Citrus counties received a D grade, although Citrus is showing some improvement.

The report also says the premature birth rate among black women is 50 percent higher than among all other women.

The Bay Area's March of Dimes board chairman, volunteer Bill Keena says the organization is trying to figure out the reasons why.

"One [reason] seems to be medical. We're trying to go down that avenue and define that scientifically, and the other is the conditions, the society, the situation that mom is in, the access to care. Are they going through all the steps to ensure that they are taken care of all through their pregnancy?"

Keena says in areas where the March of Dimes has supported programs to increase access to prenatal care, the rates of preterm births have decreased.

The March of Dimes is also funding research to learn more about the causes of prematurity, including a study at the University of South Florida.