A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics, conducted by Faculty Associate and Professor of Pediatrics Maureen Hack, found that children with extreme prematurity will grow into happy teens who report good health. About 69% of children that were born under 2.2 lbs and were tracked for the study reported that their health was good to excellent. This was similar to the rate that was reported by adolescents who were a healthy weight at birth.
The study tracked 168 extremely underweight infants that were admitted to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital between 1992 and 1995. These infants were matched with 115 normal birthweight children for socioeconomic status, age, and gender. The children were then tracked over time and asked to fill out questionnaires about their health at age 8 and age 14. Participants were not only asked about their overall health, but they were also asked questions about their sexual health, drug and alcohol use, academic performance, and their interactions with their peers. Another important finding from the study showed that children who were extreme preemies at birth were less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use and sexual intercourse, as adolescents. These children were also less likely to engage in physical activity.
Although extreme preemies do have higher rates of learning disabilities and problems with their health than children born at a normal weight, Professor Hack stresses that the research is important because it reveals how these children feel about themselves as adolescents. “There is this whole question of whether we should be keeping these very premature babies alive,” said Hack, “It is important to consider how they feel about themselves, not just how other people feel about them.” The most important message to take away from the study results is that these adolescents feel good about themselves despite their health problems.
Hack has previously researched and published about the long term outcomes for premature and low birth weight babies. Click here to read a policy brief on her work. Several other Schubert Center Faculty Associates also study the effects and outcomes of low birth weight and prematurity. Professor of Pediatrics Gerry Taylor has researched the type and extent of educational issues among children with extreme prematurity. Click here to read a policy brief on his work. Deputy Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lynn Singer has researched the parenting of very low birth weight infants. Click here to read a policy brief on her work.