baby with cleft palateAccording to a new report in China Daily, birth defects are on the rise in China ... doubling over the past decade in Beijing and increasing sharply across the rest of the country. The capital's rate of birth defects last year was 170 per 10,000 births, nearly twice the rate of 90 per 10,000 in 1997, the Beijing municipal health bureau has announced.

What's causing the rapid increase? Several causes have been considered such as improved diagnostic techniques and monitoring capability, delayed childbirth among Chinese women, and the cancellation of China's mandatory premarital health check-ups in order to an effort to protect the privacy of newlyweds. But there's another culprit that experts are beginning to consider ... pollution. Over the years, as China's manufacturing industry has expanded, chemical and toxic emissions have also increased sharply in response.

China's rate of birth defects is high compared to other countries, with about 4 to 6 percent of the 20 million newborn babies having birth defects (the number is closer to 3 percent in the U.S.) The most common birth defects in Beijing's Shunyi district include congenital heart disease, excessive numbers of fingers or toes, cleft lip or palate, and neural tube defects.

The Chinese government has instituted a program to distribute free folic acid supplements to rural Chinese couples to help prevent birth defects in their future babies. That's an excellent start, but if chemicals and toxins are to blame, the country may need to look to its manufacturing industry in order to solve the problem.  

Photo: interplast 

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