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Low Birthweight

Low birthweight (LBW)—1 of the 3 leading causes of US infant mortality—indicates current and future child health as well as maternal health. Compared with babies of normal weight, very LBW babies are more likely to have health problems such as respiratory distress syndrome, brain bleeding, patent ductus arteriosus, or necrotizing enterocolitis. Adults who were LBW babies may be at greater risk for such health conditions as diabetes and heart disease. LBW commonly occurs because of preterm birth or fetal growth restriction and is associated with such maternal behaviors as smoking, alcohol and drug use, poor nutrition, and weight gain.

Data source: National Vital Statistics System, 2013 For details:
Measure: Low Birthweight, 2015 Annual Report
Measure: Low Birthweight, 2015 Annual Report

Why does this matter?

Low birthweight infants (weighing less than 2,500 grams at birth) are at increased risk of infant mortality and a host of short- and long-term complications. There are two categories of low birthweight infants: moderately low birthweight infants (between 1,500 and 2,499 grams at birth) and very low birthweight infants (less than 1,500 grams at birth). Very low birthweight infants account for the majority of differences seen in health outcomes between low birthweight and normal weight infants. 

Possible health conditions affecting infants born with low birthweight include heart problems, breathing problems, bleeding in the brain, intestinal disorders and retinopathy. Health conditions that may affect children and adults born with low birthweight later in life include Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, cerebral palsy, and learning and behavioral problems.

The average hospital cost for a low birthweight infant is estimated to be $27,200 and $76,700 for a very low birthweight infant, compared with $3,200 for a normal weight newborn. Very low birthweight infant care accounts for 30% of all newborn health care costs, with an annual cost of approximately $13.4 billion in neonatal intensive care unit hospitalizations. Low birthweight and very low birthweight infants who survive to adulthood often experience serious physical and mental morbidities, significantly increasing the costs of hospitalization throughout their lifespan.

  • CDC WONDER, Natality Public Use Files, 2013

“About 1 in 3 children born prematurely needs special school services at some point during their school years. The Institute of Medicine says these services cost an estimated $2,200 per year per child.” —March of Dimes

Primary Care Physicians

Primary care physicians, an indicator of availability of health care providers, offer direct patient care and counsel patients on the appropriate use of specialists and advanced treatment options. Primary care physicians are typically the first point of contact with the health care system for patients and provide critical preventive care, ongoing care, and referrals to specialists. Primary care physician availability has a documented influence on health; more primary care physicians have been linked to better health outcomes including lower rates of low birthweight, lower all-cause mortality, and longer life spans.

Data source: American Medical Association, 2013 For details:
Measure: Primary Care Physicians, 2015 Annual Report
  • American Medical Association, 2013


Oral health is a vital part of overall health and a window into a patient’s general health. Many underlying conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, microbial infections, and immune disorders have oral manifestations that dentists identify in oral examinations. Periodontal disease is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Nearly one-third of US adults have untreated tooth decay, and despite steady growth in working dentists, the Health Resources and Services Administration projects the dentist shortage will continue to grow as baby boomers retire. The most significant US oral health care disparities exist in rural communities.

Data source: American Dental Association, 2013 For details:
Measure: Dentists, 2015 Annual Report
Measure: Dentists, 2015 Annual Report

Why does this matter?

Oral health provides a window into general health. Many underlying health conditions, such as nutritional deficiencies, microbial infections and immune disorders have oral signs or symptoms that are identified by dentists during routine oral exams. Dentists diagnose oral diseases, create treatment plans, promote oral health and disease prevention, perform surgical procedures and manage oral trauma.


Oral infections and periodontal (gum) disease are associated with:


The American Dental Association reports that there were 199,486 professionally active U.S. dentists in 2018. Despite projections of steady growth in the number of working dentists, the Health Resources and Services Administration has identified many areas and populations that have an inadequate supply of dentists to meet current or future needs.

  • American Dental Association, 2013

Preventable Hospitalizations

Accessible and effective preventive care can reduce hospitalizations for many preventable infectious diseases, asthma attacks, diabetes, and hypertension. Preventable hospitalizations reflect the efficiency of a population’s use of primary care and the quality of the primary health care received. Preventable hospitalizations are more common among the uninsured and often occur because of failure to treat conditions early in an outpatient setting. High rates of preventable hospital admissions can indicate problems with a population’s access to primary health care and deficiencies in the quality of outpatient care. They burden the health care system financially, with $30.8 billion attributed to preventable hospitalizations in 2006.

Data source: The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, 2013 For details:

Measure: Preventable Hospitalizations, 2015 Annual Report
Measure: Preventable Hospitalizations, 2015 Annual Report

Why does this matter?

Some hospital admissions related to chronic conditions or acute illnesses can be prevented through adequate management and treatment in outpatient settings. The number of preventable hospitalizations reflects overuse of the hospital as a primary source of care and the efficiency and quality of a population’s use of primary care for outpatient services.


Preventable hospitalizations place financial burdens on patients, insurance providers, and hospitals. In 2006, $30.8 billion in hospital costs were attributed to preventable hospitalizations. Among adults, 67% of these costs were expected to be paid by Medicare, 16% by private insurance holders, 11% by Medicaid and 5% by the uninsured.

  • The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, 2013

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