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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

South Florida: Birth Certificates Missing the Mark on Birth Defects

Birth certificates are not effectively capturing birth defects, according to a new study conducted by public health researchers.

Their findings, “Evaluation of the Sensitivity and Accuracy of Birth Defects Indicators on the 2003 Revision of the U.S. Birth Certificate: Has Data Quality Improved?” has been published in Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.

USF College of Public Health researchers, Jean Paul Tanner, Diana Sampat, Dr. Jennifer Marshall, Dr. Russell Kirby, and COPH alumnus Dr. Jason Salemi are co-authors with other public health researchers on the publication.

Changes on how birth defects are recorded on birth certificates have been ongoing since 1968, according to Dr. Salemi, the study’s lead author. In 2003 in particular, revisions were made to restrict to collection of birth defects that are readily identifiable within the first 24 hours after birth.










“Because the 2003 revision restricted to birth defects that should be easy to identify, we thought maybe the current version of the birth certificate would do a better job in capturing infants born with birth defects,” Dr. Salemi said.

Using birth certificate data and comparing it to confirmed cases of birth defects in the statewide Florida Birth Defects Registry, researchers assessed the sensitivity and positive predictive value of birth defect indicators on birth certificates.

Results indicate that, despite recent revisions, many children born with serious birth defects are not being identified on birth certificates.

“What we ultimately found is that the birth certificate is only capturing about one in every five infants born with one of these major birth defects,” Dr. Salemi said. “Although we did find variation depending on what defect it was, such as spina bifida, Down Syndrome or gastroschisis, even at its best the birth certificate was only capturing 1 in every 2 infants with the birth defect — at its worse, one in every 20.”

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