Transition of extremely low-birth-weight infants from adolescence to young adulthood: comparison with normal birth-weight controls

JAMA. 2006 Feb 8;295(6):667-75. doi: 10.1001/jama.295.6.667.


Context: Traditionally, educational attainment, getting a job, living independently, getting married, and parenthood have been considered as markers of successful transition to adulthood.

Objective: To describe and compare the achievement and the age at attainment of the above markers between extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW) and normal birth-weight (NBW) young adults.

Design, setting, and participants: A prospective, longitudinal, population-based study in central-west Ontario, Canada, of 166 ELBW participants who weighed 501 to 1000 g at birth (1977-1982) and 145 sociodemographically comparable NBW participants assessed at young adulthood (22-25 years). Interviewers masked to participant status administered validated questionnaires via face-to-face interviews between January 1, 2002, and April 30, 2004.

Main outcome measures: Markers of successful transition to adulthood, including educational attainment, student and/or worker role, independent living, getting married, and parenthood.

Results: At young adulthood, 149 (90%) of 166 ELBW participants and 133 (92%) of 145 NBW participants completed the assessments at mean (SD) age of 23.3 (1.2) years and 23.6 (1.1) years, respectively. We included participants with neurosensory impairments (ELBW vs NBW: 40 [27%] vs 3 [2%]) and 7 proxy respondents. The proportion who graduated from high school was similar (82% vs 87%, P = .21). Overall, no statistically significant differences were observed in the education achieved to date. A substantial proportion of both groups were still pursuing postsecondary education (47 [32%] vs 44 [33%]). No significant differences were observed in employment/school status; 71 (48%) ELBW vs 76 (57%) NBW young adults were permanently employed (P = .09). In a subanalysis, a higher proportion of ELBW young adults were neither employed nor in school (39 [26%] vs 20 [15%], P = .02 by Holm's correction); these differences did not persist when participants with disabilities were excluded. No significant differences were found in the proportion living independently (63 [42%] vs 70 [53%], P = .19), married/cohabitating (34 [23%] vs 33 [25%], P = .69), or who were parents (16 [11%] vs 19 [14%], P = .36). The age at attainment of the above markers was similar for both cohorts.

Conclusion: Our study results indicate that a significant majority of former ELBW infants have overcome their earlier difficulties to become functional young adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Disabled Children
  • Educational Status*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Ontario
  • Parents
  • Surveys and Questionnaires