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Navy Researchers Keep Eye on 90,000 Babies A Year

By Doris Ryan
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2003 – About 90,000 babies are born to U.S. military families each year. Army families welcome 40 percent of the babies; the Air Force, 25 percent; Navy, 24 percent; and Marine Corps, 11 percent. Military babies are born in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and overseas. California, Texas and Virginia report the highest number of military births annually -- more than 7,000 each. Nearly 10 percent of military births occur outside the United States.

These numbers are all part of the Department of Defense Birth and Infant Health Registry, a database established in 1998 at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego. The collocated DoD Center for Deployment Health Research manages the registry and provides surveillance of birth defects prevalence.

"Within the U.S. military, the overall prevalence of birth defects is approximately 3 percent," said Cmdr. (Dr.) Margaret A. Ryan, the DoD center director. "That's the same as the civilian population, which is very reassuring. But we have to keep looking harder at the data, because every baby born on our watch is important."

Ryan pointed out that with the growing number of women on active duty and the diverse hazardous exposures associated with military service, reproductive health issues are a special concern. The DoD Birth and Infant Health Registry follows inpatient and outpatient visits for babies from birth through their first year.

The registry is compatible with similar surveillance programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in some states.

"It's notable that only 35 states have any kind of birth defects surveillance," Ryan said. "This type of surveillance isn't easy to do. The military is uniquely positioned to do this well, because we have a lot more data presented in a uniform way."

She said the registry includes information supplied by multiple sources, such as military treatment facilities, clinics and civilian hospitals. At military facilities, standard codes report health care visits whether at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa or Naval Medical Center San Diego. Data gathered on babies born at civilian facilities through TRICARE also are reported in a standard way.

Ryan and her team also have access to demographic and service-related information about active-duty members. They can determine deployment and occupational exposure histories that may be relevant to birth-defects surveillance and research efforts.

Ryan said access to DoD Birth and Infant Health Registry annual reports from 1998 to 2000 would be available later this year on the Naval Health Research Center Web site at www.nhrc.navy.mil.

(Doris Ryan is a writer for the Research and Development Directorate, Naval Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, in Washington, D.C.)

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