New study indicates that over 20 million babies around the globe were born underweight in 2015.
As per CNN, researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UNICEF and the World Health Organization analyzed data from government databases and surveys in 148 countries between 2000 and 2015. They found that 1 out of every 7 babies were born underweight (less than 2,500 grams or about 5.5 pounds) in 2015, according to the findings, published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet Global Health. This is a slight improvement over rates in 2000 but not enough to prevent global health consequences.
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The study also shows that the rates varied widely by region and by country. The top 10 countries with the highest number of underweight newborns are all from South Asia, and Africa, with Bangladesh topping the chart followed by Comoros and Nepal. In the United States, 8% of babies born in 2015 had low birth weight, compared with 7.5% in 2000. High-income countries as a whole showed some of the slowest progress, with a combined low birth weight rate of 7% that persisted between 2000 and 2015.
"Weight is the single most important factor about you at your birth that predicts your future health," said Professor Joy Lawn, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive & Child Health Center and senior author of the new report.
According to study co-author Dr. Mercedes de Onis of the World Health Organization, low weight at birth can occur when a baby is born prematurely or is born at full term but is small for his or her gestational age due to growth restriction in the womb. Babies with low birth weight have a greater risk of stunted growth, developmental delays and adult-onset conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In the U.S., preterm birth is the main cause of low birth weight, which could be due to high rates of cesarean sections, the use of fertility treatments, high maternal obesity and maternal age. As for southern Asia, most babies with low birth weight are born at full term but their growth in the womb was restricted due to poor maternal nutrition.
In 2012, the WHO member countries pledged to reduce rates of low birth weights 30% by 2025. Between 2000 and 2015, the rate dropped 1.2% each year. Lawn added that the speed of global progress will have to more than double to meet this target by 2025. Efforts should focus on targeted prevention, on ensuring that every newborn around the world has a properly documented weight and on improving care for the 20.5 million babies with low birth weight.