Rapid Weight Gain in Preemies Helps IQ

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Higher weights could translate into higher IQs. Credit: Getty Images


Premature babies who pack on the pounds in their first years of life have higher IQs by the time they reach primary school than those who gain weight more slowly, a new
study shows.

Such rapid weight gain can raise the risks of high blood pressure and heart disease, so the researchers wanted to see if the rewards outweighed the risks, they write in the June issue of Pediatrics. In balance, the cognitive benefits appear to outweigh the potential dangers, the study says.

The findings indicate that increased nutritional support for preemies leaving neonatal intensive care units could benefit neurological development with only a small effect on their health, write the study's authors, who come from Boston Children's Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

More than 900 preterm babies were weighed four months and 12 months after the dates they were due to be born (their corrected ages, as opposed to their chronological ages). Their blood pressure was measured when they were 6 1/2-years-old, and they were given IQ tests when they were 8. While the children who had gained weight more rapidly had slightly higher blood pressure, they had more significant gains on the IQ tests.

The median birth weight of the babies studied was 4.1 pounds, and the median gestational age was 34 weeks. They were below average for weight, length and head circumference compared with full-term babies, but had caught up by the time they were 8, the study says.

When measuring the IQ gains, the researchers also adjusted for the mother's education, income, age, IQ and whether or not she smoked -- all factors that could affect a child's intelligence level.

Previously, researchers knew slow weight gain could impair cognitive development, but until now they didn't know the converse also was true.

Related: Mozart May Help Preemies Gain Weight

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.