It is estimated that 15% to 20% of all babies born worldwide are low birth weight, representing more than 20 million births a year.

Defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as weight at birth less than 2500 grams or 5.5 lbs, low birth weight is a major predictor of infant death and disease. Every year, 1.1 million babies die from complications of pre-term birth, including low birth weight. Low birth weight also increases the risk for non-communicable diseases later in life, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The majority of low-birth-weight births occur in low- and middle-income countries, especially among the most vulnerable populations. Nevertheless, low birth weight is a global concern, as countries such as Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States face high rates of low birth weight.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global low birth weight target to reduce the number of infants born low birth weight by 30% by 2025.

Why it Matters

Low birth weight is a major predictor of infant illness and death

Low birth weight increases the risk for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease later in life

The majority of low birth weight births occur in low- and middle-income countries

Low birth weight is a global concern – some high-income countries also face high rates for their contexts

Scope of the Problem


of all births worldwide are low birth weight


births a year are estimated to be low birth weight


babies die each year due to complications from pre-term birth

Recommended Action

Photo credit: Chhor Sokunthea

Integrated Health Care

Integrate health care for mother and child by fully integrating pregnancy care with appropriate neonatal and post-neonatal medical and nutritional care for pre-term and small for gestational age infants.

Photo credit: USAID

Adolescent Girls

Improve maternal nutrition beginning with adolescent girls by enacting policies and/or strengthening interventions to improve adolescent nutrition and health

Photo credit: USAID

Community Support

Improve linkages and referrals for facility births, and promote healthy behaviors (good nutrition, smoking cessation) during and after pregnancy by strengthening community-based packages of care


Low Birth Weight Resources

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