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baby and mother
By Carlie Porterfield

British babies are falling behind in terms of birth weight globally, according to a new study, and their mums’ lifestyles may be the reason.

In a study released this month by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, World Health Organisation and UNICEF, numbers show the majority of the world’s babies born with a low birth weight live in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the issue also affects high-income countries, such as those in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Researchers said virtually no progress has been made in reducing low birth-weight rates in these areas since 2000.

Newborn in an incubator. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Britain is lagging behind many developed countries in the study; it ranks 38th globally, with seven per cent of babies born too small. Countries where babies are likely to be born with a healthier birth weight include Turkmenistan and Mongolia. In the study, a low birth weight was defined as below 2.5 kg, regardless of ethnicity.

David Mabin, a pediatrician at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, said low weight at birth can be a marker for health issues. Babies born too small are more like to have developmental issues, higher instances of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems and low blood sugar.

Low birth weight is most commonly related to poor maternal health and poverty, Mabin said. Smoking, obesity and undernutrition were the three top factors named in the study— all issues linked with poverty in Britain.

“If you’ve got a baby whose low birth weight is because of lifestyle issues, such as poverty, poor access to health care and deprivation, those issues will then persist into postnatal life, affecting the child,” Mabin said.

There are things Britain can do to keep mums and babies healthy, he said.

“The best way is good antenatal care: planning pregnancies, avoiding smoking and drinking, and going to the midwife or doctor regularly,” Mabin said. “Improving education and access to healthcare would also help the societal factors.”