Six-Year Stretch — From 2013 to 2018 — Without Progress on Low Birth-Weight Babies

Posted May 22, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Percentagelowbirthweightbaby 2020

A trou­bling trend is fail­ing to reverse after sev­er­al years of wors­en­ing and stagnation.

Accord­ing to the lat­est data from the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion and the Nation­al Cen­ter for Health Sta­tis­tics, the per­cent­age of babies born at low birth weights in the Unit­ed States held steady at 8.3% in 2018, the sixth straight year this fig­ure has stayed the same or increased.

Low birth-weight babies are those who weigh less than 5.5 pounds when they are born. In 1990, only 7% of babies were born at low birth weights; the rate rose for a while, declined briefly and began to rise again in 2015. Com­pared with oth­er afflu­ent coun­tries, the Unit­ed States has one of the high­est per­cent­ages of babies born at a low birth weight.

Because low birth-weight babies are more like­ly than aver­age to expe­ri­ence devel­op­men­tal prob­lems and short- and long-term dis­abil­i­ties and are at greater risk of dying before their first birth­day, this sta­tis­tic is con­sid­ered to be among the most impor­tant indi­ca­tors of well-being ear­ly in life. In fact, it is one of the 16 indi­ca­tors includ­ed in the KIDS COUNT Index pub­lished each year in the KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Mis­sis­sip­pi had the high­est per­cent­age of low birth-weight babies in 2018 among the states, with the fig­ure jump­ing from 11.6% to 12.1% in one year. Alas­ka had the low­est per­cent­age at 5.9%.

Race and eth­nic­i­ty are birth-weight factors

Great vari­a­tion has long exist­ed in birth weight across races and eth­nic­i­ties, and this con­tin­ued to be true in 2018. The share of African Amer­i­can babies born at low birth weights (13.7%) was near­ly twice the fig­ure for white babies (6.9%). The rates for babies of two or more races (8.9%) and Asian and Pacif­ic Islander babies (8.6%) also exceed­ed the nation­al aver­age. Amer­i­can Indi­an and Lati­no babies were the most like­ly to be born with a healthy birth weight.

Risk fac­tors that lead to low birth-weight babies include smok­ing, poor nutri­tion, pover­ty, stress, infec­tions and vio­lence. Teenage moth­ers are more like­ly to give birth to low birth-weight babies, but the teen birth rate has fall­en dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the Unit­ed States over sev­er­al decades and fell sig­nif­i­cant­ly again between 2017 and 2018.

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