Frontiers in Public Health April 4, 2017

Preterm birth (PTB) is one of the major health-care challenges of our time. Being born too early is associated with major risks to the child with potential for serious consequences in terms of life-long disability and health-care costs. Discovering how to prevent PTB needs to be one of our greatest priorities. Recent advances have provided hope that a percentage of cases known to be related to risk factors may be amenable to prevention; but the majority of cases remain of unknown cause, and there is little chance of prevention. Applying the principle of precision public health may offer opportunities previously unavailable. Presented in this article are ideas that may improve our abilities in the fields of studying the effects of migration and of populations in transition, public health programs, tobacco control, routine measurement of length of the cervix in mid-pregnancy by ultrasound imaging, prevention of non-medically indicated late PTB, identification of pregnant women for whom treatment of vaginal infection may be of benefit, and screening by genetics and other “omics.” Opening new research in these fields, and viewing these clinical problems through a prism of precision public health, may produce benefits that will affect the lives of large numbers of people.