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Original Investigation
July 2016

Health, Wealth, Social Integration, and Sexuality of Extremely Low-Birth-Weight Prematurely Born Adults in the Fourth Decade of Life

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • 3Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(7):678-686. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0289

Importance  Although it has been previously reported that the transition of extremely low-birth-weight survivors (≤1000 g) in their mid-20s was similar to that of normal-birth-weight controls (>2500g), there was uncertainty as to whether this positive pattern would persist.

Objective  To compare the social functioning of low-birth-weight prematurely born adults aged 29 to 36 years with that of normal-birth-weight term controls.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A population-based longitudinal cohort study was conducted in Ontario, Canada, between March 14, 2011, and August 13, 2013, among 100 of 165 low-birth-weight survivors (60.6%) prematurely born between January 1, 1977, and December 31, 1982, and 89 of 144 sociodemographically matched normal-birth-weight term controls (61.8%) recruited at age 8 years. Neurologic impairments were present in 20 premature participants (20.0%).

Exposures  Extremely low birth weight.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Information on health, educational level, employment, social integration, sexuality, and reproduction was obtained through standardized questionnaires completed by the participants.

Results  Participants included 100 (39 males) extremely low-birth-weight survivors and 89 (33 males) normal-birth-weight term controls. The groups did not differ in the highest educational level achieved or in family and partner relationships. However, a lower proportion of premature adults was employed (odds ratio [OR], 0.37; 95% CI, 0.15 to 0.93) and fewer were employed full time (OR, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.24 to 0.98). The premature group had a mean total personal income of $20 000 less than controls, and more required social assistance (OR, 4.16; 95% CI, 1.13 to 15.33). Compared with the control group, more members of the premature group remained single (OR, 1.95; 95% CI, 1.08 to 3.50), had never had sexual intercourse (OR, 11.30; 95% CI, 2.56 to 49.91), did not have children (OR, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.27 to 0.99), reported more chronic health conditions (β, 1.54; 95% CI, 0.79 to 2.30), had lower self-esteem (β, 8.40; 95% CI, 1.68 to 15.12), and were less likely to have current drug abuse or dependence (OR, 0.29; 95% CI, 0.90 to 0.92) or lifetime alcohol abuse or dependence (OR, 0.30; 95% CI, 0.15 to 0.59). A higher proportion of premature adults without neurosensory impairments identified themselves as nonheterosexual (OR, 4.87; 95% CI, 1.01 to 23.69). After exclusion of individuals with neurosensory impairments, differences in employment, social assistance, marital status, and reproduction were no longer significant.

Conclusions and Relevance  In the fourth decade of life, extremely low-birth-weight survivors achieved similar educational levels and family and partner relationships, and reported fewer risky behaviors compared with controls. However, they had lower levels of employment, income, and self-esteem, and fewer were married and had children. It is therefore essential that these individuals receive necessary support and continued monitoring throughout life.