Low Birth Weight and Child Mortality

A new research paper developed by experts from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published in The Lancet Global Health makes the following observations:

  • More than 20 million babies were born with low birth weight (less than 2500g; 5.5 pounds) in 2015. This was around one in seven of all births worldwide.
  • More than 80% of 2.5 million newborns who die every year are of low birth weight.
  • The low birthweight babies who survive had a greater risk of stunting, and developmental and physical ill-health later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Close to three-quarters of low birth weight babies were born in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The problem remained substantial in high-income countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. High-income countries have seen virtually no progress.

Tackling Low Birth Weight

Reducing low birth weight requires an understanding of the underlying causes in a given country since low birth weight is a complex clinical entity composed of intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth. For instance in Southern Asia, a large proportion of low birth weight babies were born at term but with intrauterine growth restriction which is associated with maternal undernutrition, including maternal stunting.

Hence a comprehensive global strategy to tackle low birth weight must include improving maternal nutritional status; treating pregnancy-associated conditions such as pre-eclampsia (hypertensive disease of pregnancy); and providing adequate maternal care, perinatal clinical services and social support.

Reductions in death, illness and disability in newborn babies can only be achieved if pregnancy care is fully integrated with appropriate care for low birthweight babies.


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