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Original Contribution
February 8, 2006

Transition of Extremely Low-Birth-Weight Infants From Adolescence to Young Adulthood: Comparison With Normal Birth-Weight Controls

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Departments of Pediatrics (Drs Saigal and Pinelli, and Ms Stoskopf), Psychiatry and Neurosciences (Dr Boyle), and School of Nursing (Dr Pinelli), McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario; Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario (Dr Streiner); and Departments of Epidemiology and Human Development (Dr Paneth) and Economics (Dr Goddeeris), Michigan State University, East Lansing.

JAMA. 2006;295(6):667-675. doi:10.1001/jama.295.6.667

Context Traditionally, educational attainment, getting a job, living independently, getting married, and parenthood have been considered as markers of successful transition to adulthood.

Objective To describe and compare the achievement and the age at attainment of the above markers between extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW) and normal birth-weight (NBW) young adults.

Design, Setting, and Participants A prospective, longitudinal, population-based study in central-west Ontario, Canada, of 166 ELBW participants who weighed 501 to 1000 g at birth (1977-1982) and 145 sociodemographically comparable NBW participants assessed at young adulthood (22-25 years). Interviewers masked to participant status administered validated questionnaires via face-to-face interviews between January 1, 2002, and April 30, 2004.

Main Outcome Measures Markers of successful transition to adulthood, including educational attainment, student and/or worker role, independent living, getting married, and parenthood.

Results At young adulthood, 149 (90%) of 166 ELBW participants and 133 (92%) of 145 NBW participants completed the assessments at mean (SD) age of 23.3 (1.2) years and 23.6 (1.1) years, respectively. We included participants with neurosensory impairments (ELBW vs NBW: 40 [27%] vs 3 [2%]) and 7 proxy respondents. The proportion who graduated from high school was similar (82% vs 87%, P = .21). Overall, no statistically significant differences were observed in the education achieved to date. A substantial proportion of both groups were still pursuing postsecondary education (47 [32%] vs 44 [33%]). No significant differences were observed in employment/school status; 71 (48%) ELBW vs 76 (57%) NBW young adults were permanently employed (P = .09). In a subanalysis, a higher proportion of ELBW young adults were neither employed nor in school (39 [26%] vs 20 [15%], P = .02 by Holm's correction); these differences did not persist when participants with disabilities were excluded. No significant differences were found in the proportion living independently (63 [42%] vs 70 [53%], P = .19), married/cohabitating (34 [23%] vs 33 [25%], P = .69), or who were parents (16 [11%] vs 19 [14%], P = .36). The age at attainment of the above markers was similar for both cohorts.

Conclusion Our study results indicate that a significant majority of former ELBW infants have overcome their earlier difficulties to become functional young adults.