A new study by McMaster University researchers in Canada shows that there is an increased risk for psychiatric problems in adults for low birth weight premature babies when compared with infants who had a normal birth weight. In a surprise twist the researchers also determined that infants who had a low birth weight were less at risk for substance abuse disorders involving drugs or alcohol though. According to lead study author Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout “Importantly, we have identified psychiatric risks that may develop for extremely low birth weight survivors as they become adults, and this understanding will help us better predict, detect and treat mental disorders in this population.” The study results were published in the Pediatrics journal.
The McMaster University study on the risk of psychiatric problems in low birth weight premature babies had 84 adult participants, all whose birth rate was less than 2 pounds, 2 ounce, and then 90 adults who had a normal weight at birth. In the mid 30s the participants who had a low birth rate were roughly three times less likely to engage in substance abuse. These same study participants were 2.5 times more likely to develop psychiatric problems as an adult though. The study also showed that those who had an extremely low birth rate, and whose mother received steroids in late pregnancy, had an even higher risk of psychiatric disorders than those who just had low birth weight. Those in this highest risk group were also not protected against substance use disorders like the other lower weight group.