Cognition and behavioural development in early childhood: the role of birth weight and postnatal growth

Int J Epidemiol. 2013 Feb;42(1):160-71. doi: 10.1093/ije/dys207. Epub 2012 Dec 12.


Background: We evaluate the relative importance of birth weight and postnatal growth for cognition and behavioural development in 8389 Chinese children, 4-7 years of age. Method Weight was the only size measure available at birth. Weight, height, head circumference and intelligence quotient (IQ) were measured between 4 and 7 years of age. Z-scores of birth weight and postnatal conditional weight gain to 4-7 years, as well as height and head circumference at 4-7 years of age, were the exposure variables. Z-scores of weight at 4-7 years were regressed on birth weight Z-scores, and the residual was used as the measure of postnatal conditional weight gain. The outcomes were child's IQ, measured by the Chinese Wechsler Young Children Scale of Intelligence, as well as internalizing behavioural problems, externalizing behavioural problems and other behavioural problems, evaluated by the Child Behavior Checklist 4-18. Multivariate regressions were conducted to investigate the relationship of birth weight and postnatal growth variables with the outcomes, separately for preterm children and term children.

Results: Both birth weight and postnatal weight gain were associated with IQ among term children; 1 unit increment in Z-score of birth weight (∼450 g) was associated with an increase of 1.60 [Confidence interval (CI): 1.18-2.02; P < 0.001] points in IQ, and 1 unit increment in conditional postnatal weight was associated with an increase of 0.46 (CI: 0.06-0.86; P = 0.02) points in IQ, after adjustment for confounders; similar patterns were observed when Z-scores of postnatal height and head circumference at age 4-7 years were used as alternative measurements of postnatal growth. Effect sizes of relationships with IQ were smaller than 0.1 of a standard deviation in all cases. Neither birth weight nor postnatal growth indicators were associated with behavioural outcomes among term children. In preterm children, neither birth weight nor postnatal growth measures were associated with IQ or behavioural outcomes.

Conclusions: Both birth weight and postnatal growth were associated with IQ but not behavioural outcomes for Chinese term children aged 4-7 years, but the effect sizes were small. No relation between either birth weight or postnatal growth and cognition or behavioural outcomes was observed among preterm children aged 4-7 years.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Asian People / psychology
  • Asian People / statistics & numerical data
  • Birth Weight*
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / physiology*
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • China
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Growth*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Male