Developmental Origins of Diseases

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Low Birth Weight Babies

Low birth weight (5.5 pounds of less) can result from premature birth or growth-restriction during fetal life. Fetal or intrauterine growth restriction occurs when the baby is unable to achieve its genetically determined potential. Causes of low birth weight include parental smoking, maternal alcohol or drug abuse, pregnancy specific disorders including preeclampsia (a pregnancy specific disorder that occurs when the mother develops hypertension during pregnancy), problems with the placenta or poor maternal nutrition or prenatal care. The age of the mother can also impact fetal growth with risk of low birth weight increased in women under 20 and over 40 years of age. Race can also contribute to the risk of low birth weight although the reasons are not clear.

Mississippi has the highest rate of low birth weight in the United States (11.6% versus the national percentage of 8%); the rate of low birth weight within the African American population in Mississippi is 16.3%. Low birth weight is the second leading cause of death in the first year of life. Low birth weight also increases the risk for chronic disease in later life. Chronic disease, or non-communicable disease associated with low birth weight includes high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, renal disease, asthma and osteoporosis.