The percentage of underweight babies born in the U.S. has increased to its highest rate in 40 years, according to a new report that also documents a recent rise in the number of children living in poverty.
The data on low birth weights is worrisome because such babies—those born at less than 5.5 pounds—are at greater risk of dying in infancy or experiencing long-term disabilities.
The findings were released Thursday in the annual Kids Count report on the health and well-being of America’s youth, which measures the states in 10 categories. Overall, the report found progress, as well as some setbacks.
In composite rankings for all 10 indicators, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Utah ranked the highest, while Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama and South Carolina ranked the lowest.
Beavers noted that in many categories, the United States compares poorly to other developed countries. A recent study released by UNICEF ranked the U.S. second worst out of 33 industrialized nations in a composite index on child well-being, and it was 29th in regard to the percentage of babies with low birth weights.
Beavers said part of the overall increase in low-birthweight babies was due to a rise in multiple births as more older women use fertility treatments to conceive. But she said the birth-weight problem also has been worsening for single-baby deliveries.
The rate of low-weight births is sharply higher for blacks (13.6 percent) than for whites (7.3 percent) or Hispanics (6.9 percent). One important factor, Beavers said, is the mother’s overall health at the time of pregnancy and her access to good prenatal care.