First Cousin Marriage Linked to Higher Birth Defect Risk

Marriage between first cousins doubles the risk of having kids with genetic abnormalities, say researchers.

According to the findings of the study, the cultural practice of marriage between first cousins contributes hugely to the higher than expected rates of deaths and congenital abnormalities in the babies of the Pakistani community.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers at the University of Leeds analyzed data from the “Born in Bradford” study, which followed the health of 13,500 babies delivered in the Bradford Royal Infirmary between 2007 and 2011.

Of the total subject base, family details of 104 children were not known.
Out of the remaining, 18 percent children were born to parents who were first cousins, mainly from the Pakistani community.

Researchers found that 386 babies (3 percent) were born with genetic abnormalities ranging from problems in the heart, nervous, respiratory and digestive systems, to urinary and genital defects and cleft palates.

This average was nearly twice the national average, researchers averred.

“The issue is incredibly sensitive,” study’s lead investigator, Dr Eamonn Sheridan from Leeds University said. “There has been a terrific amount of community engagement in the Born in Bradford study from the word go. The community has not been surprised by the findings.”

Researchers also looked at a range of other factors that are blamed for genetic abnormalities, such as alcohol consumption, smoking and social deprivation.

None of the factors, researchers say, could explain the higher than expected rates of deaths and congenital abnormalities in the offspring of first-cousin unions, mainly among people of Pakistani community.

“This is the first study that has been able to explore all causes of congenital anomaly in a population where there are sufficient numbers in both consanguineous [related by blood] and non-consanguineous groups to come to reliable conclusions,” study’s co-author, Professor Neil Small from the University of Bradford marked.

“Clear and accessible information on these small but significant avoidable risks should be widely disseminated to local communities and be included as part of antenatal counselling and in the planning of healthcare services.”

“Awareness of the risks to the children of cousin marriage needs to be increased but in a culturally sensitive way,” he said.

The findings of the study are published in The Lancet.

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