A comparison of prematurity and small for gestational age as risk factors for age 6-13 year emotional problems

Early Hum Dev. 2012 Oct;88(10):797-804. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2012.05.005. Epub 2012 Jun 12.


Background: Although both very preterm (VP) and small for gestational age (SGA) births are suggested to increase the likelihood of childhood emotional problems, there has been a lack of research comparing these effects.

Aims: To investigate levels of emotional problems between 6-13 years of age and contrast the impact of being born either very premature (irrespective of birth weight) or small for gestational age.

Study design: Prospective longitudinal cohort study.

Subjects: 654 Bavarian children (born 1985-1986) who were followed from birth to age 12/13 years.

Outcome measures: Emotional problems at ages 6.3 and 8.5 years were measured via the Child Behavior Check List (CBCL). Emotional problems were measured at age 12/13 years via the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Trajectories of emotional problems were derived between 6.3 and 13 years.

Results: Two distinctive patterns of age 6-13 year emotional problems were found: 1) a low and stable level of problems in 76% of children; 2) a high and stable level of problems in 24% of children. The high and stable pattern of emotional problems was significantly associated with a VP but not an SGA birth. Consistent additional determinants included male child gender and lower family socioeconomic status.

Conclusions: The disparity between VP and SGA births as a predictor of age 6-13 year old emotional problems is considered in terms of fetal and/or glucocorticoid programming. The stability of emotional problems between 6 and 13 years reinforces the need for early childhood interventions aimed at children born very preterm.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development*
  • Infant, Small for Gestational Age / growth & development*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk Factors