Low Birth Weight Linked to Setbacks Later in Life

By Christine Cupaiuolo — June 14, 2007

A new study has found a “significant and substantive relationship” between low birth weight and one’s health, education and earnings as an adult. From Reuters:

Researchers funded by the National Institute on Aging in the United States found that weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2.4 kgs) at birth had significant and lasting effects which they said proved a link between birth weight, adult health and socioeconomic success.

Being born under this weight increased the probability of dropping out of high school by one-third, reduced yearly earnings by about 15 percent, and burdened people in their 30s and 40s with the health of someone who is 12 years older.

“Not only does birth weight have large and lasting effects across the life course but its effects become larger later in life,” the study’s authors wrote in a report.

The authors, economists Rucker Johnson from the University of California and Robert Schoeni from the University of Michigan, analyzed more than 35 years of data on more than 12,000 people to see how well-being and disadvantage are transmitted across generations within families. […]

Schoeni and Johnson said the poor economic status of parents at the time of pregnancy led to worse birth outcomes for their children.

“These negative birth outcomes have harmful effects on the children’s cognitive development, health, and human capital accumulation, and also health and economic status in adulthood,” they wrote.

Here’s the original press release from University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, where more of the study’s key findings are outlined. The last is perhaps the most trenchant: “The large racial differences in adult health status through mid-life in the U.S. can be fully explained by a few early life factors — birth weight, parental family income and health insurance coverage.”

And there’s lots more about how the research was conducted and the study’s findings at Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

A 2003 study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that African American teens are twice as likely to deliver low birth weight babies and 1.5 times more likely to have premature babies than white mothers.

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