Health

Underweight preemies may face mental health risks

Those born prematurely at a very low birth weight may be more likely to experience mental health problems like depression and anxiety in later life, a recent study suggests.

Researchers examined data from previously published studies of mental health in 747 adults who were underweight preemies and 1,512 who were full-term infants in five different countries.

They found that those born as preemies reported more depression, anxiety, withdrawal, loneliness and other issues than adults who were full-term infants.

Those who were among the smallest of the preemies reported fewer so-called "externalising" issues like physical aggression, disobeying rules, cheating, stealing, and property destruction than the adults who were born full term.

"We have been able to show that adults born preterm at very low birth weight reported more internalising and socially avoidant personality problems, and less externalising problems than their peers born full term," said lead study author Riikka Pyhala of the University of Helsinki in Finland.

"This means that they are more withdrawn and experience more emotional problems which often manifest as depressive or anxiety problems, and they (are also less likely to express) socially unacceptable behaviour such as rule-breaking and intrusive behaviour."

While the study did not examine why preemies might grow up to be more prone to certain psychiatric problems as adults, this might be explained by neurobiological, hormonal or social and psychological processes that are impacted by an early birth, the authors conclude. - REUTERS

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