Reducing death from low birth weight: Now Foods commitment

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pregnancy

Leading US supplement firm Now Foods has teamed up with the non-profit group Nourish America to provide prenatal vitamins to US mothers in a bid to reduce the number of infant deaths linked to undernourishment.

An estimated 30,000 babies in America die before the age of one. Although the reason remains unclear, low birth weight remains one of the primary suspected causes, said Nourish America.

In a bid to help reverse this trend, the group set up a new program – Healthy Mons & Babies – ​which​provides free prenatal vitamins to impoverished mothers.

The multi-vitamin and mineral tablets, donated by Now Foods, will be supplied to pregnant women in Hill County, Montana and Los Angeles, California.

According to Nourish America’s program director Mary Morton, the new project is being launched in these areas because of the “great need” ​resulting from high levels of poverty and malnutrition.

Unemployment in Los Angeles has reached over 12 percent this year, while in Hill County low-income families have been hard hit by local layoffs. In addition, the area has a high in incidence of teenage pregnancy, with 58 percent of teenage girls in Hill Country in 2004 experiencing at least one teenage pregnancy.

Low birth weight

Low birth weight has been linked to higher risks of negative health outcomes, including neonatal and infant mortality, poor growth and cognitive development, and higher risks of chronic diseases later in life, like diabetes and heart disease.

Low birth weight, defined as less that 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds) affects an estimated 20m babies worldwide. Over 95 per cent these in developing countries.

Vitamins and minerals usually included in prenatal supplements include folic acid, niacin, vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E.

Multivitamins help

A major clinical trial published in April 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine​ confirmed that supplementation with multivitamins during pregnancy may boost the birth of newborns.

The study, by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, involved 8,468 HIV-negative pregnant women enrolled at 12 to 27 weeks gestation and randomly assigned to receive daily multivitamin or placebo supplements from the time of enrolment until six weeks after birth.

The researchers report that at the end of the study daily multivitamin supplements during pregnancy significantly reduced the risks of low birth weight and a birth size that was small-for-gestational age by 18 and 23, respectively. No significant effects were observed on the risks of prematurity or foetal death, however.

“In light of these benefits and the low cost of the supplements, multivitamins should be considered for all pregnant women,"​ wrote lead author Wafaie Fawzi.

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