Raising Awareness of Birth Defects

Dec 28, 2012 12:00 AM

Author: Marcia L. Feldkamp, PhD, PA


Did you know that in the United States a child is born with a birth defect every 4½ minutes? That is 1 in every 33 babies. Birth defects are common, costly and critical. Although they are the leading cause of death in infants and young children, the cause of most birth defects remains unknown.

Most birth defects occur early in pregnancy, often before a woman realizes she is pregnant. Birth defects can impact every organ system in the body, and most of us know someone with a birth defect, whether we realize it or not. Sometimes, a child’s birth defect may not be visible to others in the community while other times it may be more obvious. Children with birth defects must live with these conditions every day, and some deal with lifelong illnesses as a result.  Being different from other children may lead to teasing and bullying during school years. Even birth defects that can be “fixed” can leave both emotional and physical scars.

At the University of Utah research is currently under way to improve our understanding of both the genetic susceptibility and environmental risk factors for several types of birth defects. With the unique resource at the University of Utah, the Utah Population Database, we hope to improve our understanding of the genetic susceptibility for some birth defects. Learning how environmental risk factors interact with different genetic backgrounds will be the critical next step.

As Chair of the National Birth Defect Prevention Network’s (NBDPN) Parent Advisory Group, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to our 2013 Awareness Campaign, to be launched in January. I encourage you to watch our Public Service Announcement (PSA), created with the help of many Utah parents to increase awareness of birth defects in Utah and around the world. In addition to the PSA (30, 60 and 90 seconds in both English and Spanish) the NBDPN has created a toolkit available for use in communities nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will also be helping with this awareness campaign by posting the stories of parents of children with birth defects and sending messages through social media.

We encourage you to become involved with the NBDPN Parent Advisory Group in making 2013 the year to improve awareness about birth defects among the general public, health care providers, policy makers and public officials. Preventing birth defects and leveraging intervention services for families in need are just two important public health priorities that require a sustained commitment of resources. To obtain these resources, we need your help to create awareness of that need.

To help these precious children and their families, we must first understand what causes birth defects. More research is needed. Birth defects affect everyone: what affect will you have on birth defects?