News Release

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Surgeon General’s Conference Outlines Agenda to Prevent Preterm Birth

Experts convened by the National Institutes of Health for the Office of the Surgeon General released an agenda today for activities in the public and private sectors to reduce the nation’s rate of preterm birth. The agenda calls for a national system to better understand the occurrence of preterm birth and a national education program to help women reduce their chances of giving birth prematurely.

The agenda also calls for improved methods for estimating the age of the fetus, and studies to identify biomarkers which would signal the beginning of preterm labor.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health was the scientific lead for the conference, providing topical expertise and logistical support to the conferees.

Leaders in the field met at a two-day conference this week in Rockville, Md. Congress directed the Office of the Surgeon General to hold a conference that would establish an agenda "for activities in both the public and private sectors that will speed the identification of, and treatments for, the causes of and risk factors for preterm labor and delivery."

Nearly 500,000 babies born in the United States (one in every eight births) are preterm, and this number continues to rise. Preterm birth is a major cause of infant death and places infants at increased risk for serious lifelong disability. The annual increased cost due to preterm birth in the United States is estimated to be $26 billion.

"The federal government and the numerous health advocacy groups have worked diligently for decades to overcome the problem of preterm birth," said Acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H, a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. Dr. Galson explained that recent advances have made it possible to identify numerous risk factors that predispose women to give birth prematurely, and have led to treatment that may reduce the chances of premature birth among certain at-risk mothers.

"Despite these advances, the U.S. preterm birth rate has increased in recent years," Dr. Galson said. "The agenda developed at this conference will provide the first step for reducing the considerable emotional and financial toll that preterm birth exacts in lost lives, disability, and increased health care costs."

Adm. Joxel Garcia, M.D., M.B.A., HHS assistant secretary for health, expressed his thanks to all of the participants for their work during the two-day event.

"I appreciate the conference’s multifaceted approach, particularly in understanding the many trends in the incidence of preterm births, and in the disparities in health interventions and outcomes," Dr. Garcia said. "This conference is an exciting culmination of efforts led by various partners in preventing preterm birth — scientists, health care workers and foundations."

Conference participants established an agenda that covered six general topic areas: biomedical research, epidemiological research, psychosocial and behavioral considerations, professional education and training, public communications and outreach, and quality of health care and health services.

The Acting Surgeon General will fully examine the conferees’ findings to determine how to best move forward and will consider how these findings relate to ongoing efforts in the field.

"HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has asked me to assess the issues surrounding preterm birth and the associated public health concerns," Dr. Galson said. "The Secretary will submit a report on the agenda to Congress and make it available to the public."

Information about the conference is available from the NICHD Web site at:

The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute’s Web site at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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