From Pee Wee to Productive Adult

Most low birth-weight babies become productive adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) About one in 200 babies weigh in at less than 2.2 pounds when they are born, which is definied as extremely low birth weight. A new study finds that they may start off tiny, but they end up standing tall. 

Because few of these children survived prior to the 1980s, few studies have looked at their adult outcomes, but a recent study led by Michigan State University's John Goddeeris has remedied that. Goddeeris and researchers found that productivity deficits were not remarkable in adults who had been born with extremely low birth rate. On average these survivors were only somewhat less productive as adults compared to normal-weight contemporaries. The study measured education and salary levels.

“Our findings suggest that the long-term economic impact of being born at extremely low birth weight is pretty modest for typical survivors,” said Goddeeris, a professor of economics at MSU.

Survival rates have improved for underweight babies over the past three decades. Mortality rates for babies born between about 1.1 pounds and 2.2 pounds decreased from 58 percent in 1983 to 31 percent in 2005 in the United States. Part of this success can be attributed to advances in neonatal care.  

Advances in neonatal care have had benefits far greater than costs, Goddeeris said, even though the practice of keeping extremely low birth-weight babies alive is markedly expensive.

“Some extremely low birth weight survivors will remain dependent on others,” Goddeeris said, “but most make a successful transition to adulthood and become independent and productive adults. Their education and earnings levels are not so different from their peers.”

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 1, 2010
Last Updated:
December 2, 2010