Daily zinc supplements given to babies with low birth weight can significantly improve survival rates, especially in countries where infants often die from infectious diseases. The research involved 1,154 full-term but smaller than normal babies born in New Delhi, India, most weighing 5 1/2 pounds or less. Mothers fed them supplements containing zinc or minerals for nine months. Fifteen of the 20 who died had not been receiving zinc supplements.
The findings follow previous studies showing zinc can boost growth when given to breast-fed infants, and can help make babies bigger and healthier if taken by pregnant women. Zinc deficiencies can impair the body's ability to fight disease, and previous research has also shown that preschoolers given zinc supplements had less diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Such illnesses can be especially serious for infants, and are more common in babies with low birth weights, who also might be more prone to zinc deficiency. Providing the supplements, which cost about 30 cents a month, would be an easy, inexpensive way to address a serious problem.