Impact of birth defects on families and nation

Two separate government reports highlight the economic costs of birth defects, focusing attention on the ongoing need for prevention.

This week, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released reports detailing the expense and length of hospital stays for dozens of common birth defects.

Average hospital stays for birth defects were 6.3 days and average costs $18,600 compared to 4.9 days and $8,200 for all admissions, according to AHRQ, which looked at hospitalizations in 2004 for all age groups. The average age for a birth defect-related hospital stay was 17.6 years compared to 49.9 years for all other hospital stays.

"January is Birth Defects Prevention Month and these new data show the impact of birth defects on families and our nation," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "In addition, these data on hospitalization costs for spina bifida support our recent call to the Food and Drug Administration to consider an increase in the level of folic acid fortification, as a means of better preventing such neural tube defects."

The U.S. Public Health Service says that if all women of childbearing age consumed 400 micrograms of folic acid daily -- before and during pregnancy -- it could help prevent up to 70 percent of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs), serious birth defects of the brain and spine such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Hospitals spent $2.6 billion treating birth defects; half for heart and circulatory congenital problems, AHRQ found. Both the CDC and AHRQ reports indicate that among all birth defects, heart defects had the greatest economic impact.

The AHRQ data were published in "Hospitalizations for Birth Defects, 2004, HCUP Statistical Brief #23," and is available at

The CDC data were published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, Vol. 56, No. 2.

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at or its Spanish language Web site at


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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