U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Very Low Birth Weight

According to preliminary data, 1.5 percent of live births were among very low birth weight infants (less than 1,500 grams, or 3 pounds 4 ounces) in 2007. The proportion of very low birth weight infants has slowly climbed from just over one percent in 1980.

Infants born at such low birth weights are approximately 100 times more likely to die in the first year of life than are infants of normal birth weight (above 5 pounds 8 ounces). Very low birth weight infants who survive are at a significantly increased risk of severe problems, including physical and visual difficulties, developmental delays, and cognitive impairment, requiring increased levels of medical, educational, and parental care.

Infants born to non-Hispanic Black women are more than two and a half times more likely than infants born to mothers of other racial/ethnic groups to be born very low birth weight. Among infants born to non-Hispanic Black women, 3.2 percent were very low birth weight in 2006, compared to 1.1 percent of infants born to Asian/Pacific Islander women, 1.2 percent of infants born to non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics, and 1.3 percent of infants born to American Indian/Alaska Native women. This difference is a major contributor to the disparity in infant mortality rates between non-Hispanic Black infants and infants of other racial/ethnic groups.

In 2006 (the latest year for which data are are available), the rate of very low birth weight was highest among babies born to mothers aged 45-54 years (3.5 percent). Mothers under 15 years of age also had high rates of very low birth weight (3.1 percent.) The rate was lowest among mothers aged 25-29 years (1.3 percent; data not shown).

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