To characterize the conjoined effects of low birth weight (LBW) and childhood abuse on impaired adaptation and illness in adolescence and adulthood.
Longitudinal study of a birth cohort.
Children (N = 1748) were followed from birth to adulthood (mean age, 26 years) as part of the Johns Hopkins Collaborative Perinatal Study.
Childhood abuse and LBW.
Main Outcome Measures
Indicators of adaptation were delinquency, school suspension, repeating grades, academic honors, quality of life, and socioeconomic status. Indicators of psychiatric and medical problems were depression, social dysfunction, somatization, asthma, and hypertension.
Participants with both LBW and subsequent childhood abuse, relative to those with neither risk, were at a substantially elevated risk for psychological problems: 10-fold for depression; nearly 9-fold for social dysfunction, and more than 4-fold for somatization. However, they were not at an elevated risk for medical problems in adulthood. Those exposed to childhood abuse were more likely to report delinquency, school suspension, repeating grades during adolescence, and impaired well-being in adulthood, regardless of LBW status. For those with LBW alone, the prevalence of those problems was comparable with that of individuals without either risk factor.
Children with LBW and childhood abuse are at much greater risk for poor adaptation and psychiatric problems than those with LBW alone and those with neither risk. Preventive interventions should target families with LBW children who are at greater risk for childhood abuse.