Birth Weight’s effect on cognitive development

Sam Houston State has recently researched long-term effects on birth weight. (christie/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Sam Houston State University researcher Santosh Kumar discussed his findings on the long-term effects of birth weight in the newest paper that he co-authored, “The Effect of Birth Weight on Cognitive Development: New Evidence in India,” in the Class of 1947 Room at the Homer Babbidge Library on Thursday.

In the United States, Kumar said that it is common for people to think of drinking and smoking during pregnancy as harmful for the baby. In India, however, drinking and smoking during pregnancy is rare, he said. Agriculture is often the main source of income in India, and this means that a drought can become the serious risk for babies. If pregnant women do not have enough nutritious food to eat, it results in a lower birth weight for the baby.

A low birth weight or poor fetal development has a long-lasting and permanent effect on adult health, Kumar said.

“The effects of early life conditions persist in later life,” he said.

This conclusion was reached with the help of a Young Lives Survey and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test results.

The Young Lives Survey is a 15-year longitudinal study to explore the nature of childhood poverty, Kumar said. It followed 12,000 children in low-income countries in four waves: 2002, 2007, 2009-10 and 2015.

He explained that the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPYT) is the best test to determine cognitive ability in India.

Both the Young Lives Survey and the PPYT test results aligned with the Fetal Origins Hypothesis (“Barker’s Hypothesis”), which suggests that low birth weight or poor fetal development has long lasting and permanent impacts on adult health. The tests proved that lower weight babies were unable to catch up with others.

Kumar listed several other factors that contribute to the success of normal birth weight babies in India. For example, these babies are more likely to be born into households with a higher socioeconomic status. This means that the parents are more educated and able to help the child succeed. Low birth weight babies are born into environments that do not provide the resources that they would need to succeed.

Eight hundred and thirty six million people still live in extreme poverty. One of the main sustainable development goals is to end poverty and hunger, and ensure good health and well being by the year 2030, Kumar said.


Sarah Maddox is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at sarah.maddox@uconn.edu.