Drs. Pauline A. Filipek and Jenifer Juranek of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston recently co-authored a study revealing that reduced brain volume in children with low birth weight can be tied to academic struggles.
The data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of 97 adolescents born from 1982-1986 in a Cleveland neonatal intensive care unit due to low birth weight were analyzed in this study, where less than 1.66 pounds is considered extremely low birth weight and less than 3.31 pounds as very low birth weight. In addition, their academic progress had been tracked in their school years, again four years later and then annually until they were almost 17 years old.
According to the result, more than 50% of the adolescents who were less than 1.66 pounds at birth and more than 30% of those who were less than 3.31 pounds had experienced academic deficits. However, on the other hand, researchers also revealed that 41.2% of extremely low birth weight and 65.6% of very low birth weight had similar academic achievement to those of normal birth weight.
The research leader was Caron A.C. Clark, a scientist in the Department of Psychology and Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon, who detected an overall reduced volume of mid-brain structures (the caudate and corpus callosum) where control connectivity, executive attention and motor control.
“Our new study shows that pre-term births do not necessarily mean academic difficulties are ahead,” Clark said. “We had this group of children that did have academic difficulties, but there were a lot of kids in this data set who didn’t and, in fact, displayed the same trajectories as their normal birth-weight peers.”
These findings give us new insights about association between low birth weight and academic achievement, but also raise a question: why some low-birth-weight babies develop normally and others do not?
“It is very difficult to pick up which kids will need the most intensive interventions really early, which we know can be really important,” said Clark. “They seem to be a pretty strong predictor of poor cognitive development as children age. We really need to find ways to prevent these brain abnormalities and subsequent academic difficulties in these kids who are born so small.”