Spatial and Temporal Patterns in Preterm Birth in the United States


Byrnes, J., Mahoney, R., Quaintance, C., Gould, J. B., Carmichael, S., Shaw, G. M., . . . Wise, P. H. (2015). Spatial and temporal patterns in preterm birth in the United States. Pediatric Research, 77(6), 836-844. doi: 10.1038/pr.2015.55



Despite years of research, the etiologies of preterm birth remain unclear. In order to help generate new research hypotheses, this study explored spatial and temporal patterns of preterm birth in a large, total-population dataset.


Data on 145 million US births in 3,000 counties from the Natality Files of the National Center for Health Statistics for 1971-2011 were examined. State trends in early (<34 wk) and late (34-36 wk) preterm birth rates were compared. K-means cluster analyses were conducted to identify gestational age distribution patterns for all US counties over time.


A weak association was observed between state trends in <34 wk birth rates and the initial absolute <34 wk birth rate. Significant associations were observed between trends in <34 wk and 34-36 wk birth rates and between white and African American <34 wk births. Periodicity was observed in county-level trends in <34 wk birth rates. Cluster analyses identified periods of significant heterogeneity and homogeneity in gestational age distributional trends for US counties.


The observed geographic and temporal patterns suggest periodicity and complex, shared influences among preterm birth rates in the United States. These patterns could provide insight into promising hypotheses for further research.

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