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CONTACT: DEBRA VENZKE
UI COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH
5203 Westlawn
(319) 335-9647
e-mail: debra-venzke@uiowa.edu

Release: Feb. 20, 2002

National report grants Iowa Birth Defects Registry top grade

The Iowa Birth Defects Registry, located within the University of Iowa College of Public Health, is one of eight state registries to receive an "A" grade from the Trust for America's Health (TFAH), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. The Iowa registry received the high mark for its efforts to monitor, research and uncover possible causes of birth defects.

TFAH examined birth defects registries in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, giving each a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F. Final grades were based on a number of criteria, including ability to carry out birth defects tracking, data use, prevention and research capacity, data sharing capacity, and resources devoted to the task.

Only eight state registries received an A. Fourteen programs earned a B, and 10 received a C. Nine states have no program at all, or a program so marginal that it received an F. Another 11 received a D, indicating that they are only beginning to develop programs.

"We are pleased to receive an A grade and have our program recognized nationally," said Paul Romitti, Ph.D., director of the Iowa Birth Defects Registry. "We are committed to expanding our ability to monitor birth defects, conduct research studies and provide prevention education programs for Iowans to help reduce the occurrence of birth defects here in the state."

Each year, approximately 1,600 pregnancies in Iowa and 150,000 nationwide are diagnosed with birth defects. Iowa's registry currently is conducting a number of studies assessing risks of birth defects such as cleft lip and cleft palate from drinking water contaminants. Additionally, Iowa is one of only a few states selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention to study causes of birth defects

Birth defects remain the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States, accounting for about 20 percent of all infant deaths each year. TFAH’s report – "Birth Defects Tracking and Prevention: Too Many States Are Not Making the Grade" – calls for states to improve their registries or create them where they do not exist.

"Our report shows we lack the most basic tool for preventing birth defects – information," said Shelley Hearne, Dr.P.H., executive director of TFAH. "Without knowing the causes of birth defects, we are helpless to prevent them."

The report notes that exposure to environmental hazards may play a role in some birth defects, yet two-thirds of states with registries do not explore any possible links between birth defects and environmental exposures.

"In order for the Iowa registry to continue to monitor birth defects and study environmental exposures, we will need increased and continued support from the state," said Romitti. The state currently provides funds to cover about 10 percent of the registry's annual operating costs.

The TFAH report builds on the 1999 Pew Environmental Health Commission's report, "Healthy from the Start: Why America Needs a Better System to Track and Understand Birth Defects and the Environment." TFAH has expanded the grading system used by the Pew Commission and also established a set of minimum program standards. TFAH will be issuing a report examining birth defects monitoring programs every two years to chart progress in this area, highlight gaps and identify recommendations for improvement.

The full text of the report is available on the TFAH web site at www.healthyamericans.org.

The Trust for America's Health is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the health and safety of all communities, especially those most at risk of environmental and other public health threats. Its goal is to strengthen the nation's public health system through science-based research, community partnerships, education and advocacy.