The Problem of Birth Defects: Overview

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pic_cleft_baby-2215560Birth defects—conditions resulting from abnormal prenatal development—pose a significant public health problem. They are:

COMMON.
1 in 33 babies is born with structural birth defects—like missing limbs, malformed hearts and spina bifida. About 1% of all school-age children have mental retardation. This risk is much higher in infants with birth defects.

COSTLY.
Birth defects and mental retardation are major causes of disability. Over a lifetime, medical care and special education for a single child can cost over $500,000.

DEADLY.
More than 1 in 3 babies who dies has structural birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality in California and the US.

MERCILESS.
Parents of all ages, races, education levels and from all geographic areas have babies with structural birth defects and mental retardation.

MYSTERIOUS.
The causes of most birth defects are unknown. The environment remains a source of great public concern, but very few exposures have been well studied.

OVERLOOKED.
Research to find causes is substantially underfunded. The federal budget for birth defects research is a fraction of the amount devoted to less common problems.