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Am J Prev Med. 2003 Feb;24(2):120-7.

Public perceptions about prematurity: a national survey.

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  • 1Health and Social Marketing, Porter Novelli, Washington, DC, USA.



More than 460,000 preterm babies are born annually in the United States, with rates varying depending on the mother's race/ethnicity. Preliminary evidence suggests that the general public may have a lack of knowledge and misconceptions about preterm birth.


A national telephone survey of U.S. adults, over-sampling for black and Hispanic women, was conducted in 2002 to assess people's knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs related to preterm birth (N=1967). Analyses included racial/ethnic differences among women's responses and comparisons to men's responses.


Prematurity was named by <1% of women as the most important issue facing pregnant women and infants. Overall, 34% of women and 31% of men felt that prematurity is a common problem in the United States, and 38% of women and 25% of men believed prematurity to be a serious problem in the United States. More black and Hispanic women considered prematurity to be common and serious. A majority of women (65%) and men (59%) attributed preterm births to risky prenatal maternal behaviors.


Although nearly one in eight babies is born prematurely, most U.S. adults do not consider prematurity to be a serious public health problem. While the etiology can be identified in only half of spontaneous preterm births, the public largely blames the mother's prenatal behavior. Misperceptions are prevalent and may impede future research and prevention efforts if not corrected.

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