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    Unemployment Linked With Very Low Birth Weight

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    What can be done to prevent very low birth weight? "Certainly, how we deal with unemployment and economic security is an issue that we have come to grips with politically," says Catalano. "But probably we could do more to reduce the incidence of physical adversity that follows from those events. We have a lot of models to predict economic performance. Certainly, you can use this information to, at least, predict the likelihood of these events occurring and perhaps be ready for more of them." He suggests that social support for women who are at risk for early delivery may result in the delivery of fewer premature babies.

    "It'd be good to have some history on the social experience [of these at-risk women] to the degree that these people are in prepaid health plans and capitated systems," says Catalano. "Then it's very much in the clinician's interest to know something of what is going on in their financial and job lives." Then, stress management programs and other social support interventions may be implemented, according to the investigators.

    Not only do social support interventions have the potential to reduce the number of illnesses and deaths, but also they can cut the costs of care per infant by tens of thousands of dollars, according to Catalano. "Almost any intervention that you can mount, especially one that involves social interventions instead of medical ones, is going to be cost-effective here," he says.

    The next step is to expand the time periods of these observations, according to Catalano. Additionally, studies should identify other kinds of community-based stressors, which may trigger very low birth weight.

    Vital Information:

    • According to a Scandinavian study, very low birthweight in babies is associated with unemployment, and researchers say the results can be generalized to the U.S.
    • It is believed that the clock for delivery is set early, and that stress hormones contribute to an early date, which in turn causes very low birth weight.
    • Social support for women at high risk could result in fewer premature babies and reduced associated costs.
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