Gestational Age, Birth Weight, and Neurocognitive Development in Adolescents in Tanzania

J Pediatr. 2021 Sep;236:194-203.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2021.04.036. Epub 2021 Apr 24.


Objectives: To investigate the association between gestational age, birthweight, and birthweight adjusted for gestational age, with domains of neurocognitive development and behavioral problems in adolescents in Tanzania.

Study design: Data from a long-term follow-up of adolescents aged 11-15 years born to women previously enrolled in a randomized controlled trial of prenatal multiple micronutrient supplementation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were used. A battery of neurodevelopmental tests were administered to measure adolescent general intelligence, executive function, and behavioral problems. The INTERGROWTH-21st newborn anthropometric standards were used to derive birthweight for gestational age z-scores. We assessed the shape of relationships using restricted cubic splines and estimated the associations of gestational age, birthweight, and birthweight for gestational age z-score with adolescent development using multivariable linear regressions.

Results: Among adolescents studied (n = 421), higher gestational age (per week), birthweight (per 100 grams), and birthweight for gestational age z-score (per SD) were linearly associated with higher intelligence score (adjusted standardized mean difference, 0.05 SD [95% CI, 0.01-0.09], 0.04 SD [95% CI, 0.02-0.06], and 0.09 SD [95% CI, 0.01-0.17], respectively). Birthweight and birthweight for gestational age z-score, but not gestational age, were also associated with improved executive function. Low birthweight (<2500 g) was associated with lower intelligence and executive function scores. Associations between birthweight and executive function were stronger among adolescents born to women with higher education.

Conclusions: The duration of gestation and birthweight were positively associated with adolescent neurodevelopment in Tanzania. These findings suggest that interventions to improve birth outcomes may also benefit adolescent cognitive function.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Birth Weight*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Tanzania