The impact of perinatal and socioeconomic factors on mental health problems of children from a poor Brazilian city: a longitudinal study

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2011 May;46(5):381-91. doi: 10.1007/s00127-010-0202-6. Epub 2010 Mar 12.


Background: Low birth weight and preterm birth, and social disadvantage may negatively affect mental health of children, but findings have been inconsistent.

Objectives: To assess the influence of perinatal and social factors on mental health problems in children aged 7-9 years.

Methods: A random sample of 805 births in São Luís, Brazil was studied in 1997/1998 and again in 2005/2006. Perinatal, socioeconomic and demographic variables were assessed within 24 h after delivery. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was used to assess mental health problems in the children. Simple and multiple Poisson regressions were used for statistical analysis.

Results: The overall prevalence of mental health problems in the total sample was 47.7%. The prevalences of emotional and conduct problems were 58.2 and 48.8%, respectively. Only paternal age (<20 years) was associated with mental health problems as measured by the full SDQ scale (prevalence ratio PR = 1.27). Children born to single mothers (PR = 1.31) and those with birth weight from 1,500 to 2,499 g (PR = 1.18) and from 2,500 to 2,999 g (PR = 1.17) had a higher risk of emotional problems, but those from low income families had a lower risk (PR = 0.80). Children with a father of less than 20 years had a higher risk of having problems with their peers (PR = 1.75). A maternal education of 9 years or over was inversely associated with peer (PR = 0.70) and conduct problems (PR = 0.73). Girls had a lower risk of conduct (PR = 0.77) and hyperactivity problems (PR = 0.68). A maternal education of 4 years or less increased the risk of hyperactivity (PR = 1.48).

Conclusions: Socioeconomic and demographic conditions were better predictors of mental health problems in children than birth weight or preterm birth. However, since most effect sizes were small most mental health problems were, unexplained by the variables in the study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brazil / epidemiology
  • Causality
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*