Babies born premature more likely to experience mental health problems in adulthood, says study

A new study suggests that babies who are born premature run a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems into adulthood.

The research, which was led by McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, suggests that as such children grow into their teens, they are significantly more likely to experience social problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It adds that as they approach adulthood, they are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health problems than those who were born with significantly higher birth weights.

The far-reaching study draws on findings from 41 separate research projects conducted over the past 26 years. The data used spans as many as 13,000 children in 12 different countries – and builds upon previous theories that children with a relatively low birth weight are more likely to experience autism.

Karen Mathewson, lead author and research associate at McMaster University, said: “Our findings provide evidence that individuals born at extremely low birth weight are at higher overall risk for psychological difficulties than their normal birth weight peers.

“These difficulties most frequently involve attention, anxiety-related and social problems.

“Accumulating evidence suggests the presence of gradient effects for mental and physical health outcomes within preterm groups, with those born earlier in gestation experiencing higher rates of disorder and disability,” she added.