Bright Future for Small Babies
underweight babies suffer any long-term deficits as adults? Yes
and no. According to new research, babies who are born small for
gestational age (SGA) have significant academic difficulties in
childhood and adolescence, often resulting in lower earning power
as adults. However, their social and emotional lives don't seem
to suffer. They are just as likely to be employed, married, and
in general, as satisfied with the quality of their adult lives as
those of normal birth weight (NBW).
are some of the conclusions from a report by Richard M. Strauss,
MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson
Medical School (RWJMS), that was published in the February 2, 2000
issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The report
is based on a study of 14,189 babies born in Great Britain in 1970.
Of the group, 1,064 were SGA, which was defined as a birthweight
of approximately 5.5 pounds or less. Normal births averaged about
7.5 pounds. Premature births were not included in the study.
studies of SGA babies focused exclusively on IQ and neurodevelopment,"
says Strauss. "We took a different approach, assessing quality-of-life
factors as well. Solely focusing on testing ignores the social and
emotional outcomes, which appear to be excellent."
babies were assessed at 5, 10, 16, and 26 years, respectively. At
ages 5 and 10, follow-up tests included vocabulary, spelling, and
reading. At 16 years, vocabulary tests, spelling tests, and questionnaires
about social and emotional attitudes were administered and teacher
evaluations obtained. At 26, a written questionnaire gathered data
on years of education, occupation, income, marital status and adult
the school years, those born SGA had lower test scores and teacher
evaluations than those born NBW. At age 26, the SGA group did not
demonstrate any differences in years of education and employment,
hours of work per week, marital status, or overall satisfaction
with life. However, they were less than 50 percent as likely to
have professional or managerial jobs compared with those who were
NBW, and consequently, had lower incomes. They also reported significant
height deficits compared with those who were NBW.
SGA babies with professional parents achieved significantly better
professional and economic outcomes as adults than those whose parents
were semi-skilled, manual or unskilled workers. The implications
are that parents in higher socioeconomic groups provided more stimulating
environments, which helped the SGA babies overcome at least part
of the deficit.
study is useful in defining a group at risk," says Strauss. "Early
intervention may significantly improve cognitive outcome for all
SGA babies, and programs such as Head Start may give an added boost
to SGA babies born to disadvantaged families."