A team of Australian researchers are reporting a link between babies who are born very premature and underweight and the risk of developing cerebral palsy or a similar motor impairment by the age of eight.
According to the study, which took place over the course of 14 years, 12 per cent of the group who were born prematurely developed cerebral palsy or other motor impairments compared to one per cent from the group born at full term. And with underweight babies it was 26 per cent compared to six per cent from the normal birth weight group.
The research took two groups of children either born extremely preterm or below the expected birth weight and examined them at set intervals between 1991 and 2005. A further selection of children born as expected was included in the study as a control group.
Further findings revealed that the risk of non-cerebral palsy motor impairment rose throughout the course of the research, from 23 per cent at the start to 37 per cent by 2005. The risks of cerebral palsy remained consistent.
The survival rate of affected children, once they had reached the age of eight, also rose during the course of the study, by 10 per cent over the 14 year period. This was attributed to medical technology and the advances that had been made during this time.
Although there was no study into the causes of the findings, the team responsible suggested that a drop in physical activity due to a modern lifestyle may play a part. It said: “Factors influencing motor performance, such as screen time, physical activity, and sedentary behaviour beyond the perinatal period, in both [extremely premature] and/or [extremely low birth weight] children and term controls, warrant further study.
“Additional research is needed to fully understand the causes, including possible environmental and social factors, behind the increase in motor impairments in these children.”