May 17 (UPI) -- About one in seven babies globally came into the world at low birth weight, a new study says.
More than 20 million newborns weighed less than 5.5 pounds in 2015, and many of them were born in middle- and low-income countries, according to research published Wednesday in The Lancet Global Health.
"National governments are doing too little to reduce low birth weight," said Hannah Blencowe, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and study lead author, in a news release. "To meet the global nutrition target of a 30 percent reduction by 2025 will require more than doubling the pace of progress."
For the study, the researchers looked at 281 million births from 148 countries, excluding India and other countries due to a lack of data.
The largest concentration of low birth babies, close to half of the cases around the world, came from Southeast Asia.
In all, about 80 percent of babies born weighing less than 5.5 pounds die each year. Many of the low birth weight babies who survive have a high risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In North America and Europe, a large percentage of the low birth weight babies are born prematurely, whereas in South American and sub-Saharan Africa, many babies are born on time but their growth is curbed due to malnourishment.
Sweden, Iceland, Serbia, Norway, Albania, China, Croatia and Cuba had the fewest low birth weight babies around the globe.
"National governments are doing too little to reduce low birthweight," Blencowe said.