Duke Researchers Tie Low Birth Weight to Depression in Girls
> 3/6/2007 2:53:10 PM

A study that appears in this month's edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry concludes that low-birth weight (LBW) "predicts depression in adolescents in girls but not in boys." The team from Duke University reached this conclusion after assessing over 1400 adolescents in Western North Carolina annually between the ages of 9- and 16-years-old. The team found that 38.1% of LBW girls experienced depression at least once during adolescents, while only 8.4% of girls of normal birth weight had any occurrences of depression. Boys were found to have faced depression at a rate of 4.9% during adolescents, and the team found no relationship between birth weight and depression rates among boys.

As the BBC writes, the underlying reasons behind this link are still unknown:

The researchers' favoured theory for the link to depression is that the changes a foetus has to make to compensate for a harsh environment in the womb may in some way leave it poorly prepared for the conditions it will encounter in later life.

It is also possible that low birth weight is indicative of harsh living conditions, such as poverty, which may make a child experiencing them more likely to be depressed.

Alternatively, a depressed mother may be more likely to produce a child who is prone to depression - and to have a low birth weight baby because they may be more likely to smoke and drink during pregnancy.

However, the latest study found no evidence to support these later two ideas.

No matter the reasons for the connection, the link appears to be very real. Clearly, it will take further research to draw a stronger and deeper connection, but this study should serve as a nice point of departure for looking at how low birth weight might indicate a susceptibility to mental illness as we age.

The Duke team found no link between LBW and other illnesses beside depression, but that is not to say that such a link wouldn't emerge if the subjects of this study were followed into adulthood or that the nature of the depression link wouldn't shift. Barring future research, parents and doctors should at least keep this new information in mind as LBW babies grow and reach adolescents.

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