ATLANTA - Black babies are twice as likely as white infants to be born prematurely, but the gap is narrowing, the government reported Thursday.
Single-born premature births among black women fell nearly 10 percent between 1990 and 1997, while the figure for white women increased 11 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Government health officials called the narrowing racial gap encouraging but said they would wait for more research before trying to pinpoint reasons.
''For a long time we didn't have any movement,'' said Dr. Willie Parker of the California Department of Health. ''This shows the gap that exists between black and white women is not a fixed one. We need to look at what the success strategies have been.''
The premature birth rate among black women fell 9.8 percent, from 178.5 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 160.9 in 1997. Among white women, the rate rose 11 percent, from 75.4 per 1,000 in 1990 to 83.7 in 1997.
West Virginia had the highest premature birth rate among white women in 1997. Vermont had the lowest. The District of Columbia had the highest rate among black women, Minnesota the lowest.
The government hopes to eliminate the disparity in premature births among racial and ethnic groups by 2010.
The CDC compiled data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The center defined premature births as those occurring 17 to 36 weeks after conception.
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