All newborn babies need to start life healthy to ensure proper growth and development. Unfortunately, some babies face increased risk for health and developmental challenges due to being born at a low birthweight (weighing less than 5 lbs. 8 oz.). Serious health problems for low birthweight babies can include developmental and intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing loss. Sadly, low birthweight babies are 25 times more likely than those born at normal weights to die within their first year of life.

After nearly a decade of gradual increases in the low birthweight rate, data suggest Kentucky’s rate may be improving. However, Kentucky’s rate of low-weight births continues to remain higher than the national rate, and many Kentucky counties have rates well above the state rate. Though the 2007 to 2009 data is subject to change (once all births by Kentucky mothers in neighboring states are accounted for), a third of Kentucky counties have low birthweight rates of 10 percent or greater. In 2007-2009, the percent of babies born at low birthweight varied in counties across the Commonwealth from a low of 6 percent in Boone, Gallatin, Henry, Hickman, Metcalfe and Rowan Counties to a high of 18 percent in Lawrence and Martin Counties. To see how your county is faring on low birthweight births, view the 2011 County Data Book here.

Cigarette smoking by a mother during pregnancy is the single most important known cause of low birthweight. Therefore, our Commonwealth can help decrease incidents of low-weight births with tobacco prevention programs for youth and smoking cessation programs for pregnant women. Also, research points to poor prenatal nutrition, infections, stress and poverty as other contributing factors. Thus, by ensuring access to adequate prenatal care for all pregnant women we can reduce the number of newborns born at a low weight.

Kentucky Youth Advocates thanks the KIDS COUNT Data Sponsor Owensboro Medical Health System for their support of this KIDS COUNT indicator.