The results are out from a massive 20 year study which followed more than 200 babies born in the late 1970's. They all weighed just over two pounds at birth. Now, more than 20 years later, Cleveland researchers are putting together the price they paid for an early delivery.
The study found that as they enter adulthood, premature infants are more likely to have one or more chronic health problems like asthma, vision, or hearing trouble. The high school graduation rate was 74% compared to 83% among a similar group of normal birth weight adults.
On average, IQ scores were five points lower. One other finding was encouraging. Preemies, as adults, are less likely to drink, take drugs, or engage in risky behaviors. In some ways, they are doing better. They have less trouble with the law or unwanted pregnancy than those born with a normal birth weight. "Even the children who didn't go to college were working. The rate of unemployment was similar between the premature and normal birth weight children, so they were functioning young adults," says Dr. Maureen Hack of the Rainbow Babies Hospital in Cleveland.
Dr. Hack adds that preemies become productive adults because the parents of preemies are more involved in their childhood, leaving perhaps a stronger influence when they grow up.
The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, partly funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Genentech Foundation for Growth and Development, included researchers from the research institute of university hospitals of Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and Kent State University.