Birth weight could help identify children at higher risk of psychological problems

Summary: A child’s birth weight could determine their risk of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder later in life. The researchers found that for every kilogram below the average birth weight, a child was more likely to experience mental health problems during childhood and adolescence.

Source: RCSI

New research from the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has found that babies with a higher birth weight tend to have fewer mental health and behavioral problems during childhood and adolescence.

These findings could help identify and support children at higher risk of developing psychological problems.

The study, published in European Child and Adolescent Psychiatryexamined birth weight and subsequent mental health in thousands of children in Ireland.

Unlike many birth weight studies, it used data that followed the same children repeatedly through childhood and adolescence through the Growing Up in Ireland study, an ongoing government-funded study of children born between 1997 and 1998 .

The analysis showed that each kilogram below the average birth weight (3.5 kg or 7 lb 11 oz) was associated with more reported mental health problems during childhood and adolescence. The study also found that these problems related to birth weight tend to persist into childhood, from ages 9 to 17.

The types of problems most strongly related to birth weight were inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, behaviors generally associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Each kilogram drop below average birth weight was associated with a 2% increased risk of ADHD-like behaviors, but these behaviors were within the normal range.

That is, even among children with a very low birth weight (1.5 kg), the average number of ADHD symptoms would probably not meet the threshold for an ADHD diagnosis.

Lower birth weight was also linked to emotional and social problems, especially in the later years of adolescence. These problems were found to be more severe and closer to clinical thresholds, for example for a diagnosis of depression or anxiety.

Professor Mary Cannon, Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology and Youth Mental Health at RSCI and principal investigator of the study, said: “We have known for many years that low birth weight and preterm birth are linked to increased risk of mental illness in the child. What this study shows is that even small deviations from typical birth weight can also be relevant.”

Niamh Dooley, PhD student and lead author of the study, said. “This relationship between birth weight and child mental health persists even after taking into account factors that could influence both birth weight and mental health, such as gender, socioeconomic factors, and family history. mentally ill parents.

These findings could help identify and support children at higher risk of developing psychological problems. The image is in the public domain

“The effect of birth weight on later mental health is probably small, but may interact with other risks such as genetics and childhood stress, and have implications for understanding the origins of mental health and ill-health.”

This study shows the importance of good perinatal care and suggests that improving women’s overall health during pregnancy to ensure optimal birth weight can help reduce the risk of offspring developing mental health problems.

Low birth weight children may benefit from childhood psychological assessments and early intervention for mental health symptoms if detected to help minimize the burden of mental illness later in adolescence and adulthood. adulthood

Additional research from group a has just been published Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology. It indicates that a significant percentage of the association between birth weight and ADHD symptoms in Irish children can be explained by maternal substance use during pregnancy (smoking, alcohol use, over-the-counter drug use).

Funding: This research was supported by a StAR International PhD scholarship awarded to Niamh Dooley and funding from the Health Research Council and the Irish Research Council. Open access funding was provided by the IReL Consortium. Professor Cannon is funded by a European Research Council Consolidator Award.

About this research news in neurodevelopment and mental health

Author: Rosie Duffy
Source: RCSI
Contact: Rosie Duffy – RCSI
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access
“The Persistent Effects of Fetal Growth on Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Longitudinal Evidence from a Large Population-Based Cohort” by Mary Cannon et al. European Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry


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The persistent effects of fetal growth on child and adolescent mental health: longitudinal evidence from a large population-based cohort

Low birth weight for gestational age is associated with higher rates of child psychopathology, however, most studies assess psychopathology cross-sectionally.

The effect of this fetal growth restriction appears to be strongest for attention problems in childhood, although studies in adults have found associations with a variety of outcomes, from depression to psychosis.

We explore how associations between fetal growth and psychopathology change by age and whether they vary by sex.

We used a large nationally representative cohort of children from Ireland (N~8000). Parents completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) at 3 time points (ages 9, 13 and 17). Outcomes included a total problems scale and subscales measuring attention/hyperactivity, peer, conduct, and emotional problems.

Fetal growth had significant associations with all problem scales, even after controlling for sex, socioeconomic factors, and parental mental health.

The magnitude of these effects was small but relatively stable between ages 9 and 17. In males, fetal growth had the strongest associations with inattention/hyperactivity and peer problems, whereas females showed more general associations with all four subscales.

There was a tendency for the association between fetal growth and emotional problems to increase with advancing age, approaching the borderline abnormal threshold at age 17.

Reduced fetal growth predicted persistently higher scores on all measured aspects of child and adolescent psychopathology. Associations with childhood attention/hyperactivity may generalize to a broader range of adult psychopathologies through early adolescent emotional problems.

Future studies should explore potential age-dependent effects of fetal growth in the early twenties.

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