Zinc Boosts Infant Survival Rates

Monday, December 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Daily zinc supplements given to babies with low birth weight can significantly improve survival rates, especially in countries where infants often die from infectious diseases, a new study suggests.

The research involved 1,154 full-term but smaller than normal babies born in New Delhi, India, most weighing 5 1/2 pounds or less. Mothers fed them supplements containing zinc or minerals for nine months. Fifteen of the 20 who died had not been receiving zinc supplements.

The findings follow previous studies showing zinc can boost growth when given to breast-fed infants, and can help make babies bigger and healthier if taken by pregnant women.

Zinc deficiencies can impair the body's ability to fight disease, and previous research has also shown that preschoolers given zinc supplements had less diarrhea and pneumonia.

Such illnesses can be especially serious for infants, and are more common in babies with low birth weights, who also might be more prone to zinc deficiency, the researchers said.

About 8 percent of U.S. newborns have low birth weights, compared with 42 percent of babies born in the New Delhi region where the study took place. About 83 infants there die for every 1,000 births, compared with about seven infants for every 1,000 births in the United States.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health and India's Annamalai University called their results preliminary but promising.

``The potential of interventions to improve zinc status and reduce infant mortality has important implications for child survival in developing countries,'' they said.

Providing the supplements, which cost about 30 cents a month, would be an easy, inexpensive way to address a serious problem, said lead researcher Sunil Sazawal of Johns Hopkins.

While zinc deficiency in the United States is not a big problem, internationally ``it's an incredibly important issue,'' said Dr. Robert Goldenberg, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. ``In developing countries, the biggest reason for (infant) growth retardation is maternal nutritional status.''

The study shows that zinc ``may be a piece of reducing mortality in developing countries,'' said Goldenberg, who was not involved in the study.