Low Birth Weight Has Effects Into Adolescence

Smaller babies showed lowered IQs, diminished motor skills as teens, study found

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THURSDAY, Oct. 5, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Even if they're not disabled, low birth-weight infants still face increased risks of physical and mental problems as teens, U.S. researchers report.

It's known that low birth weight increases the risk for major disabilities such as mental retardation and cerebral palsy. This new study shows that low birth weight may also be associated with minor problems in motor skills and in cognitive abilities -- thinking, learning and memory -- that can last into the teen years.

Reporting in the October issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City conducted intelligence and motor-skills tests on 474 non-disabled teens, average age 16, who weighed less than 2,000 grams (4.5 pounds) at birth.

The results showed that these teens had more motor-skills problems than other teens.

While their IQ scores were within the normal range, the average scores of the low birth-weight teens were significantly lower than the average for their age group, the researchers found.

The study also found that motor-skills problems were more likely in males; those who had injuries to brain white matter (nerve tissue) as detected by neonatal ultrasound; and those who spent more days on a ventilator as an infant.

Lower IQ scores were predicted by social disadvantages; as well as lower fetal growth ratio (birth weight divided by the median weight for the infant's age); and white matter injury.

"The prevention of white matter injury and the need for mechanical ventilation may be key to improving motor outcomes, whereas the prevention of intrauterine growth retardation (or perhaps impaired head growth) and white matter injury may be key to improving cognitive outcomes," the researchers concluded.

More information

The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation has more about low birth weight.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Oct. 2, 2006

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