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Premature Births Expected to Increase Number of Disabled Individuals

Posted on Dec 17, 2012

Since the election, national news has focused on the cost of providing the disabled with benefits such as SSI and SSDI. However, no one has focused on the number of disabled and the main causes of disability. 

Recent European studies have found that disabilities are likely to increase in the future. Of note, the increase will not be the result of an increase in accidents or wartime injuries, but because of a greater number of premature births.

According to two studies published in BMJ, babies who are born before 27 weeks’ gestation are much more likely to survive than they were in 1995; however, the rates of severe health problems among these infants has not changed. Children who are born prematurely often face severe health problems and disabilities as they grow, including cerebral palsy, respiratory problems, and learning disorders.

The research team, led by Neil Marlow of the UCL Institute for Women’s Health and Kate Costeloe of Queen Mary, University of London, compared the survival and disability rates between two groups of children; the first group was born between 22 and 25 weeks’ gestation during a 10-month period in 1995, and the second group was born between 22 and 26 weeks’ gestation in 2006. One study looked at immediate survival rates and health. That study found a 44 percent increase in admissions to neonatal intensive care. The number of babies who survived increased by 13 percent from 1995 to 2006.

The other study looked at the health of both groups of premature babies at the age of 3. Among the babies born in 1995, 18 percent of those who survived to age 3 had severe disabilities, and among those born in 2006, 19 percent had severe disabilities at the age of 3.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 12.5 percent of babies in the United States are born prematurely. As our government looks at ways to balance the budget, it is important that it keep in mind the future needs of these children.

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John L. Keefe
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