Higher birth weight indicates better performance in school

December 04, 2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's no secret that low-birth-weight babies face significantly greater risks for certain health problems early on, such as respiratory distress or infection. Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Florida and Northwestern University shows that lower weights at birth also have an adverse effect on children's performance in school, which is likely due to the early health struggles small babies often face.

Using a unique set of data that matched birth and school records from 1.6 million children born in Florida between 1992 and 2002, the researchers found that the higher the weight at birth, the better children performed on reading and math tests in school. The findings held true throughout elementary school and into middle school regardless of the quality of the schools children attended.

These findings held true when socioeconomic and demographic factors were equal among children's families, said Jeffrey Roth, Ph.D., a research professor of pediatrics in the UF College of Medicine and a co-author of the study. But when socioeconomic factors and demographics are not equal, higher birth weights don't always translate to better performance in school.

For example, lower-birth-weight babies of highly educated parents tend to perform better in school than heavier babies of high school dropouts because the educational level of a child's mother is a stronger predictor of school success, Roth said. But when researchers compare children with similar family backgrounds, birth weight plays a key role in predicting future school success.

"We tend to think that good schools are places where struggling kids get special attention and motivated teachers can correct any problems with learning," he said. "This research indicates that is not always the case. Good schools are good for everyone, but even the best schools don't seem to differentially help kids with early health disadvantage."

For the study, Roth teamed with David Figlio, Ph.D., the Orrington Lunt professor of education and social policy and economics at Northwestern University, along with other Northwestern policy experts. The results were published in this month's issue of the journal The American Economic Review.

"This research agenda started when Jeffrey Roth and I were colleagues at the University of Florida," said Figlio, who previously served as the Knight-Ridder professor of economics at UF. "When education scholars are open to learning lessons from health scholars, and health scholars are open to learning lessons from education scholars, both fields advance."

Initially, the researchers examined data from twins only. Because twins face the same in-utero conditions and early life environment, studying how heavier and lighter twins fared in school offered researchers a natural set of socioeconomic and demographic controls so they could pinpoint the effect of birth weight on education. About 53 percent of twins were born at a low birth weight, meaning they weighed less than 5.5 pounds.

After examining the data on twins, the researchers compared their findings with the larger population of singleton births. Because singletons have more room to grow and are less likely to be born premature, only 5.9 percent of these children were born weighing less than 5.5 pounds. The researchers found the same patterns of birth weight's effect on school performance among both sets of children.

"Our results are remarkably consistent: Children with higher birth weight enter school with a cognitive advantage that appears to remain stable through the elementary and middle school years," the researchers write. "The estimated effects of low birth weight are present for children of highly educated and poorly educated parents alike, for children of both young and old mothers, and for children of all races and ethnicities, parental immigration status, parental marital status and other background characteristics."

The study is a result of a unique collaboration between the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Education, which worked together to compile the data without compromising the privacy of the children.

"This study could not have been done without the willingness of these two large state agencies to collaborate," Roth said. "The DOE and DOH teamed up to create a very large de-identified data set to us to study. Florida is an exceptional place to conduct this kind of research."
-end-


University of Florida

Related Low Birth Weight Articles from Brightsurf:

WVU researchers study link between low birth weight and cardiovascular risk
In a recent study, West Virginia University researcher Amna Umer discovered that if children had a low birth weight, they were more likely to exhibit cardiovascular risk factors in fifth grade.

Is being born preterm, low-birth weight associated with adult social outcomes?
This study (called a systematic review and meta-analysis) combined the results of 21 studies to summarize the overall association between being born preterm or low birth weight and later social outcomes as adults, such as ever having a romantic partnership, having sex or becoming a parent, as well as the quality of romantic partnerships and friendships.

State initiative to address disparities in mother's milk for very low birth weight infants
A new study, published in Pediatrics, indicates that the initiative yielded positive results on improving rates of prenatal human milk education, early milk expression and skin to skin care among mothers of very low birth weight infants during initial hospitalization, but did not lead to sustained improvement in mother's milk provision at hospital discharge.

Keeping very low birth weight babies warm
UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospitals made its NICU a center of excellence for increasing the admission body temperature of their very low birth weight babies to greater than 36 degrees.

Is state medicaid expansion associated with changes in low birth weight, preterm births?
This observational study examined whether state Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act was associated with changes in low birth weight and preterm birth both overall and by race/ethnicity.

Steroid treatment for premature babies linked to low birth weight
Steroid injections given to mothers at risk of giving birth prematurely are linked to babies being born with lower body weights.

Medically assisted reproduction does not raise risk of preterm birth and low birth weight
Study shows that couples can decide about using medically assisted reproduction free from concerns about increasing the health risks to their baby.

Low birth weight linked to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension later in life
In a recent study, low birth weight was associated with subsequent obesity and the prevalence and risk of type 2 diabetes and hypertension in adulthood.

Assault during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight and pre-term babies
Physical assault during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, can significantly increase the rates of babies born at very low birth weights (under 3.3 pounds) and very pre-term (fewer than 34 weeks gestation), according to a study published by researchers at Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan.

Rheumatoid arthritis in pregnancy associated with low birth weight and premature birth
The results of a study presented today at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR 2018) demonstrate that pregnancies in women with rheumatoid arthritis are associated with premature delivery and low birth weight.

Read More: Low Birth Weight News and Low Birth Weight Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.