Early Childhood Development, Birth Weight May Predict Depression and Anxiety: Study
> 12/4/2007 11:34:55 AM

As researchers wrote in a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, heavier newborns have a reduced risk for lifetime depression and anxiety symptoms. Conversely, young children who are delayed in first walking or standing appear to have an increased risk for developing symptoms of depressive and anxiety related disorders.

The team reached their conclusions after examining nearly fifty years worth of records from the British based Medical Research Council National Survey of Health & Development. This survey included data on over 4,600 individuals beginning with the cohort's birth in 1946. Researchers divided survey responders into one of six groups depending on their lifetime mental health. They then examined statistical data regarding each group's early childhood experiences. Analyzing these statistical relationships, the researchers were able to identify the factors that appear to correlate with an increased prevalence of mental health concerns.

This more recent research comes on the heels of a published report earlier this year wherein researchers linked low birth weight to depression in girls. Inquiry into birth weight has been much more varied, though, and studies have shown that everything from intelligence to sudden infant death syndrome may in fact be linked back to birth weight.

If we conceive of birth weight as a marker of development (a starting point for all future development) then many of these ideas begin to come together. Both depression and anxiety, if discussed purely as diseases of the mind, can be understood as markers of brains that have experienced "hiccups" in the process of development. Any number of factors can lead to these hiccups, and current research has merely identified another possibility.

It's also important to note that their research identified high birth weight as being protective, and didn't go so far as to say low birth weight was a risk factor (as the report did earlier this year). Instead, delayed development, in the form of standing and walking later than expected, were found to correlate with increased risk. If anything, delayed standing and walking are stronger signs that development has undergone a hiccup. It could be that low birth weight does indeed correlate with this increased risk as well, but that it simply does not correlate strongly enough for it to be considered significant. In either case, it would seem that future inquiry into the markers of development and risks for mental disorders is warranted.

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