Low birth weight and childhood abuse linked to psychological problems later in life

February 05, 2007

New York, New York - A recent study by Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM) finds children born with low birth weight (LBW) who suffered child abuse are substantially more likely to develop psychological problems such as depression and social dysfunction in adolescence and adulthood. The study, appearing in the February 5, 2007, issue of The Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, is the first to investigate the possible interaction between LBW and later adversity.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of infants born LBW (less than 2,500 grams) has risen 16 percent since 1990. LBW is a major public health problem in the United States, contributing substantially to both infant mortality and to childhood physical impairment.

To examine the possible conjoined effects of LBW and child abuse on adaptation and on the development of psychiatric and medical problems, researchers looked at data from the John Hopkins Collaborative Perinatal Study, an epidemiologic study that followed random sample of mothers and their children from pregnancy for more than 30 years. They compared outcomes in the transition to adulthood among four groups of children: those with LBW and childhood abuse, those with LBW alone, those with childhood abuse alone and those with neither.

The researchers found that participants with both LBW and subsequent child abuse, relative to those with neither risk, were at a substantially elevated risk of psychological problems: a 10-fold for depression; a nearly 9-fold for social dysfunction and an over 4-fold for somatization. However, they were not at an elevated risk for medical problems in adulthood. Those exposed to child abuse were more likely to report delinquency, school suspension, repeating grades during adolescence and impaired well-being in adulthood, regardless of LBW status. For those with LBW alone, the prevalence of those problems was comparable to that of those without either risk factor.

"The number of children born with low birth weight is steadily increasing in the country," said Yoko Nomura, Ph.D., M.P.H, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and lead investigator of this study. " These findings suggest children faced with the adversity of low birth weight and subsequent child abuse had substantially poorer outcomes than children facing either adversity alone in various areas of their life."

"The good news is by offering preventative mental health services to mothers with LBW, and monitoring LBW children to provide early intervention, together we can protect such children from subsequent adversity such as abuse," noted Claude M. Chemtob, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and one of the study investigators.
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The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) and the Erna Reich Fund of the UJA Federation of New York, and a Young Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD).

Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Located in Manhattan, Mount Sinai School of Medicine is internationally recognized for ground-breaking clinical and basic-science research, and innovative approaches to medical education. Through the Mount Sinai Graduate School of Biological Sciences, Mount Sinai trains biomedical researchers with an emphasis on the rapid translation of discoveries of basic research into new techniques for fighting disease. One indication of Mount Sinai's leadership in scientific investigation is its receipt during fiscal year 2005 of $174.1 million in research support from the NIH. Mount Sinai School of Medicine also is known for unique educational programs such as the Humanities in Medicine program, which creates opportunities for liberal arts students to pursue medical school, and instructional innovations like The Morchand Center, the nation's largest program teaching students and physicians with "standardized patients" to become not only highly skilled, but compassionate caregivers. Long dedicated to improving its community, the School extends its boundaries to work with East Harlem and surrounding communities to provide access to health care and educational programs to at risk populations.

The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

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