Low birth weight babies are at greater risk of
developing psychosis-like symptoms as they grow up, research
suggests. The study,
published in the June issue of the British Journal of
Psychiatry, shows a link between children’s size at birth and
their mental health at the age of 12.
Researchers from the University of Bristol
assessed 6,000 12-year-old children to find out if they had
experienced any hallucinations or delusions over the last 6 months.
Of the 6,000 children, 820 (13%) had experienced at least one
psychotic symptom. These included visual and auditory
hallucinations, and delusions of being spied upon, persecuted or
having their thoughts read.
All the children had been followed since birth
as part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children
(ALSPAC). This allowed the researchers to analyse their birth
weights, birth length and growth throughout childhood.
The researchers found strong evidence that
babies born with a low birth weight and short birth length were at
increased risk of psychosis-like symptoms at 12 years of age. A one
standard deviation increase in birth weight was associated with an
18% reduction in the risk of psychosis-like symptoms. There was no
evidence of a link between the children’s growth during their early
childhood, and psychotic symptoms at the age of 12.
The study findings echo previous research
suggesting that a low birth weight is associated with an increased
risk of schizophrenia in later life.
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Thomas K, Harrison G, Zammit S, Lewis G, Horwood J, Heron J, Hollis C, Wolke D, Thompson A and Gunnell D (2009) Association of measures of fetal and childhood growth with non-clinical psychotic symptoms in 12-year-olds: the ALSPAC cohort, British Journal of Psychiatry, 194: 521-526