Melbourne: Babies born with very low birth weight tend to be shorter, have fewer friends and achieve less academically as young adults than their peers, a new study has found.
However, people born weighing less than 1500gm (very low birth weight or VLBW) score similarly at age 20 to their peers on a range of other measures of health and social functioning – despite previous research indicating they could be impaired by their small start in life, researchers said.
The research was led by Professor Brian Darlow, of the University of Otago, Christchurch and involved more than 200 VLBW people now aged 22 and 23.
Darlow said while VLBW participants do tend to be more socially isolated and achieve less academically, they were as happy with their quality of life as peers.
“This study is good news because it shows that, with some exceptions, these young people are doing pretty well despite serious hurdles early in life,” Darlow said.
Darlow said there is clear evidence in their early years VLBW infants have increased rates of problems such as cognitive delay and emotional and behavioural issues. Data had emerged to show these problems may persist into adulthood.
Darlow’s study showed that VLBW babies were, as young adults on average 5.6kg lighter and 4.2cm shorter than their peers.
They were less likely to engage in romantic partner relationships (in the past year 59 per cent VLBW people versus 75 per cent other had a romantic partner).
The study found no significant differences between VLBW people and their peers when it came to high school completion, involvement in paid employment and after tax income, close family relationships, quality of life and overall functioning.
The study was published in the Pediatrics journal.