2500-g Low Birth Weight Cutoff: History and Implications for Future Research and Policy

Michelle M. Hughes, Robert E. Black, Joanne Katz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Purpose To research the origins of the 2500 g cutoff for low birth weight and the evolution of indicators to identify newborns at high mortality risk. Description Early research concluded “prematurity”, measured mainly through birth weight, was responsible for increased health risks. The World Health Organization’s original prematurity definition was birth weight ≤2500 g. 1960s research clarified the difference between gestational age and birth weight leading to questions of the causal role of birth weight for health outcomes. Focus turned to two etiologies of low birth weight, preterm births and intrauterine growth restriction, which were both causally associated with morbidity and mortality but through different pathways; a standard cutoff based on gestational age or customized cutoff was debated. Assessment While low birth weight can be due to preterm or intrauterine growth restriction (or both), the historic 2500 g cutoff remains the standard by which the majority of policy makers define low birth weight and use it to predict perinatal and infant adverse outcomes. Conclusion Current efforts to refocus research on preterm births and poor intrauterine growth are important to understanding the direct causes of mortality rather than low birth weight as a convenient surrogate. Such distinctions also allow researchers and practitioners to test and target interventions outcomes more effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-289
Number of pages7
JournalMaternal and child health journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Fetal growth
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Small for gestational age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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