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Study finds low birth weight rates vary widely across US

HANOVER, NH Low birth weight, an important risk factor of infant mortality and childhood developmental disorders, varies more than 3-fold in regions across the U.S., according to national research conducted at Dartmouth Medical School. The study offers promise for health care experts in an area of prenatal health where progress has been elusive.

Published in the November 7 issue of Pediatrics, the study is the first to investigate regional low birth weight rates on a national scale, and identifies regions that have significantly low or high low birth weight rates. The authors, based at the Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth Medical School, concluded that birthplace is as important for neonatal outcomes as the race or prenatal health of the mother.

A low birth weight baby is defined as a newborn weighing less than 5.5 pounds. Although researchers have long known that low birth weight can be influenced by many factors including the biological interaction of the mother and the fetus, the parent's socioeconomic status, and medical care, these factors are little understood and public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of low birth weight have been largely unsuccessful. National rates of low birth weight have actually increased over the past decade, a trend that has both economic and health consequences.

This study confirmed established knowledge that race plays a role in low birth weight, with an incidence of over 11 % of births to black mothers compared to less than 5 % of births to white mothers. Smoking or drinking during pregnancy approximately doubles the likelihood of low birth weight, as does a weight gain of less than 20 lbs. during pregnancy. Even after controlling for these established risk factors, the research team found that babies born in some regions of the U.S. were still more than 3 times as likely to be low birth weight compared to others.

"I was surprised that the regional
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Contact: Andy Nordhoff
Mednews@Dartmouth.edu
603-653-0784
Dartmouth Medical School
7-Nov-2005


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