Why are Premature Births on the Rise in South Korea?

Michael Song, April 12, 2016, 9:40 a.m.

The proportion of newborns who need critical medical care, including premature babies, has been rising in South Korea since 2010, while general fertility rate has been going down in the country, a study showed Tuesday. According to the report released by the Health Insurance Policy Research Institute in the National Health Insurance Corporation, the number of newborns decreased in Korea from 425,786 in 2010 to 402,516 in 2014. 

However, the proportion of newborns who needed critical medical attention, including premature and low birth-weight babies, increased from 3.8 percent to 4.7 percent in the same time period. Low birth-weight babies are defined as infants weighing less than 2.5 kilograms at birth, while premature babies are those who are born 36 weeks or earlier.

Some of the biggest causes of the increased preterm births here include more pregnancies after age 35 -- as more women are putting off marriage and childbearing -- depression during pregnancy as well as side effects of infertility treatments.

The report pointed out that the medical cost that was spent to treat premature and low birth-weight newborns accounted for 42.9 percent of the total cost spent on all newborns in the country in 2014, which was 121.4 billion won ($106 million). According to the World Health Organization, common causes of preterm births worldwide include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes. 

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