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 infants were born very low birth weight (less than 1,500 grams, or 3 pounds 4 ounces) in 2008. The proportion of very low birth weight infants has slowly climbed from just over 1 percent in 1980.

Infants born at such low weight 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 times more likely than infants born to mothers of other racial/ethnic groups to be very low birth weight. Among infants born to non-Hispanic Black women, 3.0 percent were very low birth weight in 2008, compared to 1.2 percent of infants born to non- Hispanic White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander women and 1.3 percent of 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. However, non-Hispanic Black infants were the only racial/ethnic group to see a drop in very low birth weight between 2007 and 2008; the rates for all other racial/ethnic groups remained largely unchanged.

In 2007 (the latest year for which data are available), the rate of very low birth weight was highest among babies born to mothers under 15 years of age (2.8 percent), followed by mothers aged 45–54 years (2.2 percent). The rate was lowest among mothers aged 25–29 years (1.3 percent; data not shown).

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