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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Study focuses on pre-pregnancy health

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 12:38 AM EDT

Despite efforts to improve prenatal care in the United States, the number of babies being born prematurely or at a low birth weight continues to increase, according to a recent study by the Central Pennsylvania Center of Excellence for Research on Pregnancy Outcomes.

“Researchers have found that improved prenatal care hasn't impacted preterm and low birth weight births in the way expected,” said Holly Fleegle, community health educator for Somerset Tapestry of Health. “If women are taking steps to be healthy before they become pregnant, it should have an impact on the birth weight.”

A collaborative four-year project is being done by the Pennsylvania State University, Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania, Franklin and Marshall College and Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. The project is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health with tobacco settlement funds.

Somerset Tapestry of Health is part of the project as it is funded by the Family Health Council. A central focus of the study is on the region's rural communities.

Premature or preterm births are those that occur before 37 weeks of gestation. Low birth weight babies weigh less than 5 1/2 pounds at birth. Very low birth weight is less than 1 pound, 10.5 ounces. In 2003, the rate of low birth weight births in the U.S. reached 7.9 percent, representing 300,000 births. This was the highest rate in 30 years.

To be eligible for the Central Pennsylvania Women's Health Study, women must be between the ages of 18 and 35, and not currently pregnant. They will receive two free health screenings and gifts.

“We are conducting the recruitment and enrollment,” said Jennifer Mock, community health educator for Somerset Tapestry of Health. “There will also be a control group.”

The women may also attend classes that cover stress management, nutrition, pre-conception health and use of tobacco and alcohol.

“Smoking and drinking are the biggest causes of low birth weight births,” Mock said.


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