July 17, 2009

Preemies born to poor families at risk

Premature babies born in poverty are four times less likely to be ready for school, researchers at the University of Chicago found.

Advances in neonatal care enabled two-thirds of premature babies born with respiratory problems to be ready for school at an appropriate age, the researchers write in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Premature babies born to poor families, however, were more likely to have lower functional and perceptual skills, reduced vocabulary and sensory impairment, said the study's co-author, Jeremy Marks, an associate professor of pediatrics.

The researchers analyzed data from 137 babies born prematurely with respiratory distress syndrome.

The good news is premature babies are surviving. Neonatology has done a remarkable job in lowering mortality without increasing morbidity, Marks said. The bad news is poverty leads to huge disparities in school readiness.

Communities must provide additional long-term resources to such children for them to reach their potential, Marks said.