There are a number of public health concerns to be addressed in West Texas ranging from dietary health to education. A particular area of concern is the statistics on low birth weight. There are a number of potential factors that may be contributing to these numbers and simply monitoring the number alone is not enough. In order to fully address the issue of low birth weight we need to systematically determine the specific variables contributing to the trend.
It is well documented that low birth weight is one of the largest contributors to overall child health as well as infant mortality (CDC, 2012). Recent research indicates that populations showing higher prevalence in low birth weight also demonstrate higher a prevalence of learning and developmental disabilities (CDC, 2012). Clearly, low birth weight is most often caused by preterm birth, which is defined by the CDC as before 37 weeks of gestation (CDC, 2012). There are many reasons for mothers to give birth prematurely and some cannot be controlled, but many others can. Something that is often overlooked is the importance of the last few weeks of gestation for proper brain development. A child born in the later range of preterm birth (33-35 weeks) may not show overt signs of problems until they reach school age. This is because most of their problems are not clearly visible, but when placed in school next to children who gained the benefit of full term gestation they often show signs of an inability to compete cognitively and/or emotionally with their peers. Studies out of the U.K. have shown us that children with learning disabilities are more likely to engage in criminal activity (Macdonald, 2012), suffer from behavioral problems such as depression (Gallegos, 2012), and be of lower socioeconomic status (SES). It is also less than helpful for their development that most of these children are from classes and ethnic groups that are disproportionately of low SES and often do not have access to the resources they need for provisioning their families to provide effective postnatal care. It is the combination of good pre and postnatal care that should be the focus in these cases. It is also worth noting that Gallegos (2012) found a high trend of anxiety and depression in Hispanic children with learning disabilities. Given the size of the Hispanic population in Texas this is a particular area of concern. This overall trend leads to repetitive cycles in a community. Without engaging in preventative measures to ensure healthier babies, both physically, and cognitively this trend will not break.
In Ector County we are starting a plan to work cooperatively with hospitals in order to begin monitoring not just the weight of babies at birth, but really looking at preterm birth numbers as compared to full term births. This will help us find out if the low birth weight is linked to preterm births and/or another potential variable. The rate of teen pregnancy in Ector County is another suspected area of contribution to the trend, and thus, we have plans to keep tabs on the ages of mothers. It is the hope of the health department that after some time monitoring the trends that it will be possible to develop more public health interventions to ensure the health and welfare of mothers and children.
CDC (2012) Reproductive Health. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/MaternalInfantHealth/PretermBirth
Gallegos, J., Langley, A., & Villegas, D. (2012) Anxiety, depression, and coping skills among mexican school children: a comparison of students with and without learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(1), pp. 54-61
Macdonald, S. (2012) Journey’s end: statistical pathways into offending for adults with specific learning difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 3(2), pp.85 – 97