ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The rate of premature births in New York State has continued its trend of decline, according to state heath officials.

The New York State Health Department said 12.2 percent of babies were born before 37 weeks gestation in 2009. In 2011, that rate had dropped to 10.9 percent.

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The figure is below the U.S. average 11.7 percent.

More than 500,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the U.S.

Babies who are not carried to full term are at higher risk for an array of health and developmental problems.

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The cost of their medical care is about $30,000 compared to $3,000 for full-term babies.

The state has set a goal of reducing premature births to 9.6 percent of the total by 2020.

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