June 10, 2016
2 min read

Very low birth weight children may face health, social detriments in adulthood

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Infants born with extremely low birth weight were more likely in adulthood to report chronic health conditions, remain single, earn less money and report lower self-esteem, according to recent research in JAMA Pediatrics.

“The first generation of extremely low birth weight (ELBW, <1000 g) premature infants born after the introduction of neonatal intensive care has survived into the fourth decade of life,” Saroj Saigal, MD, FRCP(C), of the department of pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues wrote. “The question remains, though, whether as these ELBW individuals mature, will they have employment opportunities, earn suitable wages, have fulfilling family and sexual relationships, and/or integrate well into society?”

The researchers studied a cohort of 100 adults, born prematurely with low birth weight between 1977 and 1982. Study participants were matched with a control group, consisting of 89 sociodemographically similar adults born with normal birth weight. The researchers gathered information on health, education, employment, social habits, sexuality and reproduction by administering standardized questionnaires.

Study results showed that overall those born prematurely did not differ significantly in regards to education levels, family and partner relationships vs. controls. Yet, those born prematurely were at a higher risk for unemployment (OR = 0.37; 95% CI, 0.15-0.93) and required more social assistance (OR = 4.16; 95% CI, 1.13-15.33). Further, participants in the low birth weight group earned a mean $20,000 Canadian less annually than those in the control group.

The researcher also found differences between the groups regarding sexuality. Those born prematurely were more likely to be single (OR = 1.95; 95% CI, 1.08-3.5), less likely to have ever engaged in sexual intercourse (OR = 11.3; 95% CI, 2.56-49.91) and less likely to have children (OR = 0.52; 95% CI, 0.27-0.99).

Study participants born prematurely reported more chronic health conditions (beta, 1.54; 95% CI, 0.79-2.3) and were more likely to report low self-esteem (beta, 8.4; 95% CI, 1.68-15.12). However, they also were less likely to report current drug or alcohol issues.

“It is difficult to predict what the future will hold for these ELBW adults as they reach middle age in terms of their employment, income, family and partner relationships, and quality of life,” Saigal and colleagues wrote, noting the study’s small sample size. “[Studies] should be conducted throughout the life course of these individuals to obtain a better understanding of the most pressing issues, and to develop effective intervention strategies.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.