Is Evidence Linking Low-Birth Weight and Depression Accurate?

There are a number of existing studies that address the association between low birth weight and psychological distress and depression later in life. However, according to a new meta-analysis conducted by Wojtek Wojcik of the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College in London, that evidence may be somewhat distorted. It has been well established that children born underweight are at increased risk for a number of negative health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and even diabetes. But the link between low birth weight and mental health is much weaker.

Wojcik examined a number of studies and found 18 that looked specifically at birth weight in relation to distress and depression in adulthood. Factors that often accompany low birth weight, including malnutrition, famine, and physical illnesses, were not included in these studies so that a clear conclusion could be drawn. Wojcik found that although there was some modest evidence of a link between depression and low birth weight, it was much weaker than has been previously reported. In fact, compared to those children born at normal weights, those with low birth weight had only a slightly higher chance of developing depression.

Wojcik contributes these results to author bias and reporting inaccuracy. In fact, much of the data used in these studies was gathered from parental and caregiver reports, which relies solely on recollection and can be far from accurate. Also, Wojcik believes that authors often sensationalize their results by giving the most attention to their positive, albeit slight, findings of associations. “This suggests a preference for authors and journals to report positive findings while null findings are often downplayed, a phenomenon widely recognized,” said Wojcik. Finally, many of the studies that were examined in this analysis did not put emphasis on secondary exposure risks and instead emphasized low birth weight as the prominent risk factor for future psychological distress. Wojcik hopes these current results present a clearer picture of the true relationship between low birth weight and depression, which does actually exist, but is quite weak independent of other risk factors.

Wojcik, W., et al. Foetal origins of depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis of low birth weight and later depression. Psychological medicine 43.1 (2013): 1-12. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

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  • Brigitte


    February 6th, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    This is a link that I have not heard about before.

    I knoew that low birth weight babies tend to have more physical issues than full term babies do, but I had no idea that these issues could extend into the mental health of these children as well.

  • Tyrone


    February 7th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    In my experience the cold hard fact is that any study can be made to imply anything that the researcher wants it to imply. Who would benefit from someone saying that low birth weight really does not have that much of an impct on one’s mental health as they grow old, and who would benefit if the opposite is stated? many times we lend so much credence to one study but the better thing to try is to look at much evidence over time and not base your own beliefs and feelings on one set of studies. You have to be careful about who is putting that information out there, who is funding the study, and what would lead them to the conclusions that they are suggesting. In this case, I am not sure that there is enough material out there currently to make any sort of conclusive decision. Therefore doctors need to continue to encourage their expectant mothers to eat right, exercise, and remain anxiety and stress free when possible to give a greater likelihood that they will carry the baby to full term and that they are at a healthy weight when born.

  • B Frazer

    B Frazer

    February 8th, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    So some studies are stated differently to make them sensational? I don’t think that surprises me. There is only so much to take from any study and unless you get into the details of one and study it like a researcher does you don’t often get a completely clear picture. Unprofessional on the part of those that conduct these studies? Maybe. Do they need some sort of regulation to stop this? Definitely.

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