More birth defects reported, but they aren’t on the rise

There are more birth defects than previously thought, but here's why experts don't think problems are increasing

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The number birth defects in the UK has increased from a previous figure of one in 80 babies to one in 50, according to a new study. However, experts don’t believe birth defects are on the rise.

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Researchers have attributed the apparent increase to better data collection. The data collected by the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers (Binocar) also includes defects that led to pregnancies being ended, so the figure doesn’t represent the number of babies actually born with congenital problems, more the number of problems detected.

The report estimated that there were around 14,500 babies diagnosed with birth defects in England and Wales in 2009. These defects ranged from congenital heart disease to spina bifida and Down’s syndrome. It found that where the anomaly was discovered during pregnancy, 43% of the pregnancies were terminated.

Researchers also added that in some areas, particularly London, the rate of Down’s syndrome had increased due to the number of older mums. However, other conditions appear to be decreasing.

“The number of cases of heart anomalies seems to be coming down,” said Professor Joan Morris from Queen Mary, University of London. “People believe it may be something to do with folic acid but that’s not been proven.

“We are not really certain. It could be down to better general health, such as people eating more fruit and vegetables.”

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