May 16, 2019
2 min read

1 in 7 babies around the world born with low birthweight

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Findings recently published in The Lancet Global Health suggested that although a decrease in the prevalence of infants born with low birth weight, or LBW, was observed between 2000 and 2015, an estimated 20.5 million children — or one in seven — are still born weighting less than 2,500 g, or approximately 5.5 lbs.

“In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed a comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, which specified six global targets, including a 30% reduction in the number of low birth weight between 2012 and 2025,” Mercedes De Onis, MD, MPH, PhD, Hon FRCPH, coordinator of the Growth Assessment and Surveillance Unit at WHO and co-author of the study, said in a press briefing.

De Onis explained that a lack of data in this field made it difficult to determine the magnitude of the problem and to create a baseline to monitor progress toward these goals. The researchers suggested that the decline in prevalence will need to more than double to reach the goal of a 30% reduction by 2025.

For the study, researchers gathered data from 281 million births in 148 countries from 2000 to 2016. De Onis and colleagues wrote that 47 countries had no data that met their inclusion criteria.

They found that the prevalence of LBW decreased from 17.5% (uncertainty range [UR] = 14.1-21.3) in 2000 to 14.6% (UR = 12.4-17.1) in 2015. The average annual reduction rate during the study period was 1.23%.

Infant holding hand 
Source: Shutterstock

The researchers estimated that globally, 20.5 million births (UR = 17.4-24 million) were considered LBW. Nearly all LBW infants (91%) were born in low- and middle-income countries, including Southern Asia (48%) and sub-Saharan Africa (24%). However, both these geographic areas experienced a decrease in the prevalence of LBW infants during the study period.

“Low birth weight is probably the single piece of information that most predicts health throughout the whole lifespan,” Joy Lawn, BMedci, MB, BS, FRCPCH, MPH, PhD, FMedSci, director of the Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive and Child Health Center at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and senior author of the study, said in the briefing. “It predicts newborn death, childhood stunting and disability. All of these outcomes result in human suffering and perpetuate intergenerational poverty.”

Lawn added that these findings should be a “wake-up call” to governments, the United Nations and all partners to close data gaps, as well as gaps in infant care and prevention of low birth weight. – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.