Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A boosted baby bonus means...

bigger babies.

The Health Minister Nicola Roxon will this week be asked to intervene to prevent the planned increase in the baby bonus from $4,187 to $5,000 on July 1.

Economists Andrew Leigh from the Australian National University and Joshua Gans from Melbourne University will write to the Minister to warning her to expect another bout of unhealthily heavy babies if the increase goes ahead.

Babies born weighing more than four kilograms are statistically more likely to be born with low scores on the Apgar scale which measures muscle tone, heart rate, reflexes and respiration...

The economists will tell the Minister that in July 2004, the month the baby bonus was introduced, 680 babies were born weighing more than four kilograms - 140 more than in a typical month.

“People are aware that premature babies are unhealthy,” Dr Leigh said yesterday. “They are less aware that overcooked babies are unhealthy.”

Dr Leigh and Professor Gans research suggests that around 1,000 babies that would have been born in June 2004 had their arrival delayed until July in 2004, mainly by postponing cesarean sections and inductions.

Only 42 per cent of births in the final week of June were cesareans or inductions. The rate jumped to 52 per cent in the following week.

Data from the Bureau of Statistics suggests that the rate of infant deaths increased in July 2004, but the economists are unable to back up this finding with the more detailed data they have so far obtained from state health authorities.

“Getting the data out of the states and territories is like getting blood out of a stone. Only Western Australia gave us data for both births and deaths and it points to no demonstrable effect,” Dr Leigh said.

When the bonus last jumped, to $4,000, in July 2006 around 680 births were delayed.

“We were struck by how big the 2006 effect was,” Dr Leigh said.

When the bonus jumps again to $5,000 in July this year, the economists expect another bout of heavy babies.

“The sudden jump creates an incentive to overcook your kids,” he said.

“Our general view is that we probably shouldn't have the baby bonus at all, but if we are going to have one, and if we are going to increase it, lets do it in such a way that doesn't create incentives to time births for non medical reasons”