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Study Finds Smallest Preemies Not at More Risk of Adult Mental Health Issues

Study Finds Smallest Preemies Not at More Risk of Adult Mental Health Issues

A population health study of very preterm and very-low-birth-weight individuals finds that these early births are not associated with anxiety and mood disorders later in life.

The finding challenges earlier research that suggested increased risks. The study will appear in an upcoming issue of theĀ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and University of Warwick researchers studied nearly 400 individuals from birth to adulthood. Half of the participants had been born before 32-weeks gestation or at a very low birth weight (less than 3.3 pounds), and the other half had been born at term and normal birth weight.

The research team, led by Drs. Julia Jaekel (UT) and Dieter Wolke (UW), assessed each participant when they were six, eight, and 26 years old using detailed clinical interviews of psychiatric disorders.

“Previous research has reported increased risks for anxiety and mood disorders, but these studies were based on small samples and did not include repeated assessments for over 20 years,” said Jaekel.

Their results? At age six, children were not at an increased risk of any anxiety or mood disorders, but by age eight — after they had entered school — more children had an anxiety disorder.

By 26, there was a tendency to have more mood disorders like depression, but the findings were not meaningfully different between the two groups.

This study is the first investigation of anxiety and mood disorders in childhood and adulthood using clinical diagnoses in a large whole-population study of very preterm and very-low-birth-weight individuals as compared to individuals born at term.

The team also found that having a romantic partner who is supportive is an important factor for good mental health because it helps protect one from developing anxiety or depression.

However, the study found fewer very-preterm-born adults had a romantic partner and were more withdrawn socially.

“Adults without support from romantic partners are at increased risk to develop anxiety and mood disorders,” said Wolke.

“Social support is important to prevent anxiety or mood disorders.”

It is also the largest study that’s been done following very-preterm-born children from childhood to adulthood.

Researchers believe the large sample size and study design provide compelling and reassuring evidence that very-preterm birth is not associated with an increased risk of psychiatric mood and anxiety disorders.

Source: University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Study Finds Smallest Preemies Not at More Risk of Adult Mental Health Issues

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Study Finds Smallest Preemies Not at More Risk of Adult Mental Health Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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