The number of newborns with birth defects in many parts of China is rising rapidly as women have children later in life and environmental pollution takes its toll, state media reported.
In Beijing, the rate of physical abnormalities, such as congenital heart defects or cleft lips, last year was 170 per 10,000 births, nearly twice the rate recorded in 1997, the China Daily newspaper reported.
Quoting the Beijing municipal health bureau, the report said the higher rate was the result of better diagnostic techniques and monitoring capabilities, as well as women having children later in life.
Environmental pollution could also be contributing to the problem, the report quoted the authoritative Caijing business magazine as saying.
"Chemical and toxic emissions impact the health of the parents, so it is likely they also impact the health of an unborn baby," Ren Aiguo, director of the reproductive health institute at Peking University, was quoted as saying.
The number of birth defects detected in other parts of the country has also increased, the report said.
In the southern province of Guangdong, a major industrial hub, the birth defect rate rose from 186 per 10,000 births in 2003 to 249 four years later.
In the eastern province of Zhejiang, the rate nearly doubled during the same period, from 115 per 10,000 births to 208.
Nationwide, around four to six percent of the 20 million babies born every year have defects, the report said.