Skip to main content
About Us

Highmark Foundation assistance aids two western Pennsylvania organizations in reducing low birth weight babies

Sept. 21, 2015 | Pittsburgh, Pa.

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 21, 2015) — The Highmark Foundation recently published a white paper detailing the successful efforts of two western Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations, Butler Memorial Hospital and Every Child Inc., in building capacity to improve opportunities to address low birth weight babies. Grant funding for the programs from the Highmark Foundation totaled more than $500,000.

"Through this funding initiative, we now have a better understanding of who is at risk for low birth weight deliveries and how those risks can be alleviated," said Highmark Foundation President Yvonne Cook. "However, funders cannot do it alone. Opportunities to reduce low birth weight and improve health outcomes for mothers and their children also require the coordination of quality health care resources as well as involvement from communities and families."

Birth weight is the first weight of a baby, taken just after birth. In the United States, approximately eight percent of babies born fall into the low birth weight segment, weighing less than 5.5 pounds. Infants born below normal weight are less likely to survive the first year of life and are more likely to suffer physical and developmental conditions that have a lifelong impact. Low birth weight infants are also more likely to incur higher medical costs and suffer from chronic health issues. The societal cost of low birth weight is estimated at more than $26 billion annually in the United States. Similarly, the average hospital cost for low birth weight babies is almost 25 times higher than those born in the normal weight range.

Proper prenatal care is a key factor in preventing low birth weight in babies. At prenatal visits, the health of both mother and fetus should be examined and mothers are encouraged to eat a healthy diet and gain the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy. Mothers should also refrain from behaviors that are known to contribute to poor fetal growth and other complications such as smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.

The Highmark Foundation grants to Butler Memorial Hospital, a nonprofit community hospital serving a largely rural area outside of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in Butler, Pa., and Every Child Inc., a human services agency that provides services to meet the needs of predominantly low-income urban minority children and families based in Pittsburgh, supported programs focused on clients most at risk that address low birth weight and worked to improve infant and maternal health outcomes. The leading-edge prenatal programs offered opportunities to which the mothers would not normally have had access. The participating mothers represented a series of low birth weight risk factors, including low income, mental health diagnoses, low educational attainment and belonging to a minority racial group.

The goals of the programs were to:

  • Reduce the incidence of low birth weight
  • Provide support to pregnant women and teens
  • Improve overall health outcomes

As a result of the Butler Memorial Hospital and Every Child Inc. programs, participating mothers experienced healthy birthing, and the incidence of low birth weight and other significant precursors of risk improved significantly. A full version of the Highmark Foundation white paper is available online.

"The Foundation's interest in confronting low birth weight and other risk factors for a healthy start to life has grown out of its commitment to healthy families and communities. We want to help make sure our children's lives start off on a firm foundation of health," said Cook. "The Highmark Foundation looks forward to continued collaboration with community partners to help reduce low birth weight and associated issues."

About the Highmark Foundation

The Highmark Foundation is a private, charitable organization of Highmark Inc. that supports initiatives and programs aimed at improving community health. The Foundation's mission is to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for individuals who reside in the communities served by Highmark Inc. The Foundation strives to support evidence-based programs that impact multiple counties and work collaboratively to leverage additional funding to achieve replicable models. For more information, visit


David Misner
Highmark Health