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Lower Birth Weight Linked to Lower Academic Performance

Birth Weight and Academic PerformancePrevious research has linked birth weight with a number of outcomes later in life. Low birth weight increases the risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and autism spectrum disorder. Now a new study from researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois finds that children born with low birth weight perform lower academically than peers born at a heavier weight.

As published in the journal American Economic Review, the study explores the interaction between school quality and the relationship between birth weight and cognitive development.

To study the interaction, the researchers looked at merged birth and school records for all children born in Florida between 1992 and 2002, which included more than 1.3 million children including 15,000 pairs of twins.

The researchers found that children born heavier score more highly on tests from third to eighth grade than children with lower birth weights.

Data from the twin pairs in the study confirmed the association: Heavier born twins performed better academically than twin siblings with lower birth weights.

Even after accounting for the quality of the schools attended by the children, the association between birth weight and academic performance remained. Heavier birth weight is advantageous for all children regardless of race, socioeconomic status, and a variety of other factors including school quality.

Conclude the researchers, “The results strongly point to the notion that the effects of poor neonatal health on adult outcomes are largely determined early — in early childhood and the first years of elementary school.”

However, birth weight is not the only factor in academic performance and success. Maternal education also plays a significant role. Explains study coauthor Jonathan Guryan, an associate professor of human development and social policy at the School of Education and Social Policy: “You’d rather be a low-birth-weight baby with a mother who has a college degree than a heavier baby born to a high school dropout.”

Adds David Figlio, director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR):

“A child who is born healthy doesn’t necessarily have a fully formed brain. Our study speaks to the idea that longer gestation and accompanying weight gain is good. We want to know: what does that mean for public policy?”

Another previous study also found that gestational age influences academic performance with the academic success of full term babies varying with gestational age at birth.

References

Heavier newborns show academic edge in school: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/11/heavier-newborns-show-academic-edge-in-school.html
Low-birth-weight children ‘associated with lower academic outcomes’: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286318.php

Image Credits

Birth Weight and Academic Performance: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/875137

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