Background: Childhood intelligence is an important determinant of health outcomes in adulthood. The first years of life are critical to child development. This study aimed to identify early life (perinatal and during the first year of life) predictors of low cognitive performance at age 6.
Methods: A birth cohort study started in the city of Pelotas, southern Brazil, in 2004 and children were followed from birth to age six. Information on a broad set of biological and social predictors was collected. Cognitive ability-the study outcome-was assessed using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). IQ scores were standardized into z-scores and low IQ defined as z < -1. We applied bootstrapping methods for internal validation with a multivariate logistic regression model and carried out external validation using a second study from the 1993 Pelotas Birth Cohort.
Results: The proportion of children with IQ z-score < -1 was 16.9% (95% CI 15.6-18.1). The final model included the following early life variables: child's gender; parents' skin color; number of siblings; father's and mother's employment status; household income; maternal education; number of persons per room; duration of breastfeeding; height-for-age deficit; head circumference-for-age deficit; parental smoking during pregnancy; and maternal perception of the child's health status. The area under the ROC curve for our final model was 0.8, with sensitivity of 72% and specificity of 74%. Similar results were found when testing external validation by using data from the 1993 Pelotas Birth Cohort.
Conclusions: The study results suggest that a child's and her/his family's social conditions are strong predictors of cognitive ability in childhood. Interventions for promoting a healthy early childhood development are needed targeting children at risk of low IQ so that they can reach their full cognitive potential.