2.2% of babies born in England and Wales have a birth defect, report finds (wiki commons)

One in every 46 babies born in England and Wales is suffering from a congenital abnormality, a report has found.

Anomalies include heart and lung defects, Down syndrome, spina bifida and limb malformations such as club foot.

Researchers at Queen Mary University in London looked at data from 2007 to 2011 covering 36% of all births in England and Wales.

They found the prevalence of major birth defects were higher in England and Wales than other European countries, with 2.2% of all babies having an abnormality.

Researchers estimate that at least 16,000 babies were born with congenital abnormalities in 2011. The most common anomalies were congenital heart defects, which were found in at least six in every 1,000 births, with 6% dying before the age of one.

Neural tube defects, such as spina bifia, and gastroschisis, where the intestines develop outside the abdomen, were found in one in every 1,000 births. The report showed gastroschisis was more common in Wales and babies born to younger mothers.

Women between the age of 25 and 29 were least likely to have a baby with a congenital abnormality, while under 20s and over 40s were more likely.

Lifestyle related

Joan Morris, editor of the report, said: "Overall, our impression is that we're pretty similar to Europe although we have higher rates of abdominal defects, particularly among younger mothers. People feel this is lifestyle-related.

"Evidence suggests that risks are increased, particularly in lower body mass index mums - the thinner teenage pregnancies - but we can't say that's definitely the cause."

Findings showed that 61% of anomalies are diagnosed before birth and that 44% of these result in a termination.

The study was funded by Public Health England and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date report of its kind.

Records of birth anomalies have been kept since the thalidomide epidemic in the 1960s and in the 1980s. Regional registers have been put in place in some areas to actively collect data from hospitals.

Morris said: "We remain concerned that data for substantial parts of the country, including London, are not currently monitored, meaning large regional increases in congenital anomalies could go unnoticed and their causes not investigated. Currently there are no registers in London, the South East, the North West and East Anglia."