Academic Achievement Varies With Gestational Age Even Among Full Term Births [Study]

Children who were born prematurely often fare worse in terms of academic achievement than children who were born full term. However, even among full term babies, gestational age is linked to academic achievement and success, says a new study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research recognizes that babies who are born between 34 to 36 weeks of gestation are at an increased risk for adverse developmental outcomes including problems with academic achievement, according to the March of Dimes. However, little research has focused on the developmental differences among children born at full term between 37 and 41 weeks of gestation.

In the present study, researchers at Columbia University in New York sought to determine the degree to which children born within the normal range of full term varied in terms of academic achievement.

To determine the differences, if any, in academic achievement among full term babies, the researchers looked at data from 128,050 singleton births in New York City between 1988 and 1992. All of the participants were born between 37 and 41 weeks of gestation and were subsequently enrolled in third grade in public schools in New York City between 1996 and 2000. Birth data was then match with standardized city-wide third-grade reading and math tests.

The researchers then examined the differences in reading and/or mathematical ability in relation to gestational age at birth. The study also analyzed the degree to which a wide range of individual- and community-level social and biological factors mediate the effect of gestational age at birth.

The results of the study indicate that children born at 37 or 38 weeks performed significantly lower in terms of academic achievement than children born at 39, 40, or 41 weeks of gestation. Other compounding factors such as birth weight and a number of other obstetrical, social, and economic factors were not associated with the academic achievement of full term babies.

That children who are born earlier but full term still fare worse in terms of academic achievement is an important finding that will help better identify children who are at an increased less academic success. As the researchers conclude:

“From a public health perspective, this may have important consequences, particularly in the realm of identifying children who may be at risk for poorer school achievement.”

As Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics and GH Sergievsky Center, Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, further comments in an exclusive statement to The Inquisitr:

“Infants born on the earlier side of full term showed, on average, a small but significant reduction in academic achievement. However, increased risk for lower achievement is not the same as inevitability — other research has shown that parents who provide cognitively stimulating environments by, for instance, talking to and reading with their children, dramatically increase the likelihood of school success.”

Further research needs to be conducted to identify the mechanisms underlying linking gestational age to academic achievement.

Will the results of this study impact the way in which you approach your child’s education?