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How Low Birth Weight Affects Adulthood

The idea that low birth weight babies have a rough start is nothing new. Throughout four pregnancies spanning eight years, I’ve been warned on the dangers of giving birth too early or having a baby who is too small. (Too small, by the way, is any baby that weighs less than 5.5 pounds at birth, regardless of whether or not it is premature.)

As it turns out a recent study published by researchers at the University of Michigan, covering over 12,000 babies and 35 years of work, shows that skinny babies have other issues as well. Some key points from the research include:

*Low birth weight babies are about 30% less likely to be in excellent or very good health during childhood.

*Low birth weight proves problematic for adult health as well. Researchers estimate that being born under that 5.5 pound marker is the equivalent of being about 12 years older in one’s 30’s or 40’s.

*Low birth weight babies earn approximately 22% less in their middle years, than their full term, chubby baby counter parts.

*The probability that a child will drop out of high school jumps by a third if the child was a low birth weight baby.

Poverty as a Factor

One key factor that’s missing here is the fact that most low birth weight babies are born to mothers in poverty. As someone who lives in the inner city, I can tell you that at least here, health officials do everything they possibly can to encourage and educate mothers. With my first pregnancy I had to watch a 15 minute video on why you shouldn’t smoke while pregnant, despite the fact that I’m not a smoker. I was given tons of pamphlets on good nutrition and other factors that could increase the likelihood that I would give birth prematurely. I even had to sign papers saying that I didn’t want to meet with a nutritional counselor after the birth.

Although I didn’t read any research indicating this, I would highly suspect that if you compared low birth weight babies born to mothers in poverty with low birth weight babies born above poverty. . .the odds for the low birth weight baby would increase.


Another key factor that was not mentioned at all in the abstract was the fact that many low birth weight babies are born prematurely. Prematurity marks a baby for health problems throughout their lives.

However, as I always say when I’m giving information about statistics, this study is looking at thousands of babies over a period of several years. The statements are true when you’re looking at a general trend. But just because your baby was a low birth weigth baby doesn’t mean that your baby will drop out of high school or be destined for a life of poverty. How you parent can make all the difference to your little one.

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