Children born severely underweight do not suffer from chronic health problems in their teens

In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland reported that a child severely underweight by birth does not suffer from overall chronic health problems between the ages of 8 and 14 years. Nevertheless, as these children grew older, obesity rates were found to increase.

Babies or children with extremely low-birth-weight [(ELBW), newborns weighing less than 2.2 lbs (1 kilogram)] demonstrated improved survival rates in the 1990s as perinatal care advanced significantly.

The authors wrote: “The school-aged outcomes for these children indicate very high rates of chronic health conditions and developmental problems compared with normal-birth-weight (NBW) controls. There have been few reports of the outcomes of ELBW children during adolescence, which is a time of enormous social, health, and developmental change.”
Maureen Hack, M.B., Ch.B., and team embarked upon determining the probable changes in chronic conditions of ELBW children between the ages of 8 and 14 years. The authors explained that a prior study involving 8-year old EBLW children and normal birth weight (NBW) children, ELBW children were found to have considerably higher rates of chronic conditions, special health care needs, and functional limitations.

This study conducted from 2004 through 2009 comprised a total of 181 ELBW kids from the prior study and 115 NBW controls born between 1992 and 1995. All kids were of the same sociodemographic status.

Although the overall rates of chronic conditions were found to be the same in children between ages of 8 (75%) and 14 (74%) years, there was a considerable drop in the average number of chronic conditions per child.

Functional limitations – rates dropped from 56% to 46%.

Comparing the two groups – Compared to 47% in the NBW controls, 74% of the ELBW children had chronic conditions between the ages of 8 through 14.

Asthma –Compared to 23% of the ELBW children requiring asthma medication at both 8 and 14 years, 8% and 17% of NBW kids required asthma medication at 8 and 14 years, respectively. According to authors, the difference between the two groups at 14 years was insignificant.

Obesity – rates among ELBW children rose from 12% to 19% at ages 8 and 14 years, respectively. However, both ELBW kids and the NBW kids had similar obesity rates at 14 years.

The authors wrote: “At age 14 years, 46 percent of ELBW children had functional limitations compared with 16 percent of NBW controls, including mental or emotional delay, trouble understanding simple instructions, and speaking and communicating.

Our results may have relevance to current survivors. The ELBW status may be considered a marker for the risk of multiple chronic conditions that warrant closer than average health surveillance during adolescence. In addition to therapy for neurodevelopmental disorders, ELBW children with asthma or obesity should receive interventions such as smoking prevention and exercise encouragement to reduce the consequences of these conditions and to possibly enhance their long-term adult outcomes.”

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