Yet, "these infants do not come out unscathed," said Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She warned against drawing too many conclusions from the study because self-reporting by teenagers can be flawed.
She said one finding in the research -- that teens in the study group had significantly higher rates of learning disabilities and other medical problems -- "didn't make a lot of sense" if the teens also rated their health as good to excellent.
"There are no objective measures," she said, adding that parents or doctors could have given valuable input. The study noted that parents involved in other research had "reported poorer health" for their preterm children than the children did.
The study followed 168 extremely underweight babies admitted to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital from 1992 to 1995. Researchers also recruited a control group of 115 normal birth-weight children matched for age, gender and socioeconomic status. Both groups filled out the same questionnaire at ages 8 and 14. Most participants were black and from middle- to lower-middle-income households, said Hack, noting that premature birth is a serious problem among black women.
Participants answered questions about overall health, specific health problems, self-esteem, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, peers and school performance.
At age 14, about 45 percent of the extremely low birth weight children were in special education programs, compared with about 10 percent of those with normal birth weights. Significantly, more of the former group also had long-term medical disorders such as cerebral palsy.
The study noted that the children who were severely underweight at birth were less likely to engage in physical exercise and risky behaviors, including riding in fast cars, breaking parental rules, drug and alcohol use and sexual intercourse.
Hack, who is also
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