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Study: Minority Low-Birth-Weight Babies Less Likely to Get Help

A study of 10,433 California babies born with a very low birth weight in 2010-11 found that many were not referred to a free statewide program that provides follow-up care.

"The study found that larger neonatal intensive care units were more likely to make referrals, whereas larger infants, as well as those of African-American or Hispanic descent, in the study were less likely to be referred," according to a Science Newsline summary of the study.

Conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine, the study, which is set to run in the February issue of Pediatrics, a medical journal, looked at referral rates for the new state program that provides three years of follow-up support for babies born in a California Children Services-approved neonatal intensive care unit. To qualify, babies must weigh less than 3.3 pounds at birth. Nearly all such babies are born prematurely.

The list of health complications that can plague premature and low-birth-weight babies is long and includes several issues that could interrupt early learning. Vision problems, hearing problems, impaired cognitive skills, possible brain damage and a higher likelihood of developing ADHD are all concerns for babies born too soon.

"The good news is that this data was collected relatively early in the state's revitalized program for high-risk infant follow-up," Susan Hintz, MD, professor of neonatal and developmental medicine and lead author of the study, told Science Newsline. "We've already made substantial improvements in site-specific online tools and resources available to hospitals for nearly real-time feedback, and referral rates now appear to be higher than they were during 2010 and 2011."

California is not the only state to offer early-intervention services for low-birth-weight babies, but its comprehensive program is ahead of many other states, according to Hintz.

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