Health inequalities and low birth weight

Across the world, babies born to disadvantaged families are more likely to have a low birth weight (weigh less than 2500 grams). Low birth weight is associated with a greatly increased risk of death in the first year of life as well as serious illness and lifelong disability.

Longitudinal studies show that children with a low birth weight experience a greater risk of developing learning and behavioural difficulties, lower educational attainment and socio-economic status as adults. Low birth weight is therefore a critical aspect of child poverty. The Irish government adopted a national target on the reduction of health inequalities in low birth weight. The target states that the gap in low birthweight rates between children from the lowest and the highest socio-economic groups should be reduced by 10% from the 2001 level, by 2007. Low birth weight is also included in Ireland's National Set of Child Wellbeing Indicators which are reported on an ongoing basis by the Office of the Minister for Children in the State of the Nation’s Children series of reports.

IPH produced a report that explored the relationship between socio-economic status and low birth weight in Ireland and reviewed the evidence for what works in reducing inequalities in birth weight. The Unequal at birth report found that babies born to parents who are unemployed were at over twice the risk of having low birth weight in 1999, when compared to those born to parents recorded as higher professionals. Teenage and unmarried mothers also had a significantly increased risk of having a low birth weight baby.

graph of low birth weight by occupation of mother

The consequences of childhood disadvantage in Northern Ireland at age 5
a study recently published by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister showed that low birthweights are predictive of worse educational, cognitive, behavioural and health outcomes.

How can I learn more about low birth weight and health inequalities?