Posted by: Francis Koster Published: June 16, 2013

A Huge Opportunity to Birth Healthy Children and Lower Future Health Care Costs

A Huge Opportunity to Birth Healthy Children and Lower Future Health Care Costs

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D. 

Each year in the United States around 6 million women conceive.[1] Around a million deliberately abort the pregnancy.[2][3] Another million or so miscarry.[4] Approximately four million children are born[5], and a shocking and rising number of those have birth defects.

The exact number of children with birth defects is hard to nail down.[6][7] 

America does not have a standard definition of what a birth defect is.viii Some states count defects only visible at birth, like cleft palate. Some states count only those defects that were visible and corrective action was taken. Other systems include in their birth defects count things present at birth but not visible. For example, autism usually recognized when a child is in primary school. Once rare, autism has grown from one birth in 2000 in the 1970s to one in 88 in 2012.ix,x

 Counting all the children who have late surfacing brain birth defects, it is now realized that somewhere around one in ten of all American children who survive to school age are suffering from some kind of expensive and/or life disrupting birth defect. xi For example, it is estimated that lifetime healthcare costs of an autistic child is $ 2.3 million.xii Each.

Birth defects can originate from events years before boy even meets girl. Agent Orangexiii and some agriculture chemicalsxiv can harm dad's plumbing and ability to make healthy sperm. His obesity can also result in an overweight daughter.xv Her weigh in turn can cause harm to his grandchild. 

After conception, chemicals can hurt the fetus.xvi The E.P.A registry of existing chemicals lists over 84,000 chemicals now in usexvii, almost none of them tested for fetal impact. One recent study found a total of 287 chemicals present in the babies blood at birth!xviii In 2011, scientists in China examined birth defect rates before and after the introduction of polluting industrial processes in a rural region, and found some rates quadrupled after “progress” arrived.xix

A pregnant woman can harm her future child by her behavior - in particular, by smoking, drinking, drug use or being obese.

Smoking by a pregnant women causes higher miscarriage rate, reduction in IQ, doubling of the rate of mental retardation, and increased risk of childhood cancer.xx Drinking while pregnant causes faulty hearts, problems with the structure of the mouth, nose, eyes, and head as well as poor coordination and behavior problems.xxi Drugs like cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines slow fetal growth, cause heart defects, smaller brains, and poor development of the urinary tract.xxii

Obesity is a major issue. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.xxiii Obese pregnant women have a significantly higher risk of miscarriage, birth defects, or premature birth.xxiv And while we cannot deny the problem, we don't need to blame mom - her own weight issues may be caused by her father's exposure to chemicals. (See above.)

In addition to birth defects, there are rising rates of prematurity, up 36% in the last 25 years.xxv ,xxvi One in nine children born alive now arrive prematurely, increasing the risk of Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual disabilities, hearing loss, and other issues.xxvii The cost is enormous.

Fortunately, there are many ways we can help improve the health of our next generation.

Favorable references by teachers before pregnancy regarding the value of quickly starting pre-natal care can educate young women to seek medical attention as soon as pregnancy is suspected.xxviii

Moms-to-be can improve their diet and/or vitamin intake a year or so before conception. This is not time for amateur hour - healthcare professionals need to take blood tests and prescribe optimal changes to diet or supplements. Vitamin A, for example, is often low in pregnant women, but if they take too much, it raises risk quite a bit.xxix

There are many successful programs. One example is Utah County, located near Salt Lake, Utah, which started a pilot program aimed at helping pregnant young couples who smoked. They have 44 active participants who are so serious about protecting their baby that they volunteer to take ongoing "Smoke-alizer" tests to confirm they abstain from smoking, and a salvia test to determine nicotine and chewing tobacco

At the local level, a comprehensive prenatal program aimed at high-risk groups and their partners such as low income, farm and industrial workers, and the obese are a must. Every $1 spent on prenatal care saves between $2.57 and $3.38 in later costs - and lifetimes of misery.xxxi

I believe that we can, and must, invent a better future for our children. I believe that all those Sunday school lessons speak to this kind of issue. And a strong case can be made that taxpayers will be better off, because reducing the number of wounded children is a lot cheaper than funding a lifetime of care. Let's take our minds, our wallets, and our souls and invest in our next generation’s future.


i This is a calculated number derived by taking the documented number of live births,(footnote 5) and adding the documented number of abortions (footnotes 2 and 3) and documented number of miscarriages (footnote 4 ) to it. Many conceptions occur but miscarry invisibly in the first month or so, and are not captured in any data, as no medical attention is sought. These invisible miscarriages are not counted here because there is no documentation. If those invisible miscarriages were counted, the damage caused by environmental and parental behavior would be much higher than reported, as many of the failures appear to be linked to those causes.

iii Jones RK and Kooistra, K., Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States, 2008, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2011, 43(1):41-50

xvi "In a study of couples living and working on Ontario farms, increased miscarriage rates were observed when certain pesticides (atrazine, glyphosate, 2,4-D, 2,4-DB, MCPA, carbaryl, thiocarbamates, and insecticides), were applied in the 3-month window of time before conception. Pesticides associated with increased risk of miscarriage when exposure occurred during the first trimester of pregnancy were atrazine, dicamba, and 2,4-D. Several studies have also reported increased risk of miscarriage in occupations associated with agriculture (e.g., gardeners, greenhouse workers, veterinarians)." 

xviii YouTube video of 10 Americans, report of a study by the environmental working group. 

xix Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 108, #31 August 2, 2011. The association of selected persistent organic pollutants in the placenta with the risk of neural tube defects 

xxx email correspondence with Lance D. Madigan, Public Information Officer, Utah County Health Department 

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Francis P. Koster Ed.D.

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