More than 20 million babies are born across the globe weighing far less than they should, and the problem isn’t limited to low-income countries, new research shows.
In 2015, nearly three-quarters of infants with low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds) were born in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. But low birth weights persist in high-income countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, where there have been virtually no reductions in low birth weight rates since 2000.
To come to those conclusions, the researchers analyzed data on 281 million births in 148 countries.
In 2012, all 195 member states of the World Health Organization committed to a 30% reduction in low birth weight rates by 2025.
This study found that worldwide rates of low birth weight fell from 17.5% in 2000 to 14.6% in 2015.
But that 1.2% annual decline fell well short of the target annual reduction rate of 2.7%, the study authors said.
The findings were published May 15 in The Lancet Global Health.
The researchers called for more investment and action by all nations to speed up progress on reducing the global rate of low birth weight.
“Despite clear commitments, our estimates indicate that national governments are doing too little to reduce low birth weight,” said study author Dr. Hannah Blencowe, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in England.
“We have seen very little change over 15 years, even in high-income settings where low birth weight is often due to prematurity as a result of high maternal age, smoking, cesarean sections not medically indicated and fertility treatments that increase the risk of multiple births,” she said in a journal news release.
“These are the underlying issues that governments in high-income countries should be tackling,” Blencowe added.
“To meet the global nutrition target of a 30% reduction in low birth weight by 2025 will require more than doubling the pace of progress,” she explained.
The study authors called for all babies to be weighed at birth, improvements in medical care, and public health action on the causes of low birth weight, which puts newborns at increased risk for death and disability.
The March of Dimes has more on low birth weight.