It has long been known that babies born with a lower weight tended to have an increased risk of impaired intelligence throughout their lives. A new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has linked medical advancements over the past 50 years to a halving in the association between lower birth weights and cognitive ability.
The study compared data from research in the United Kingdom conducted in 1958, 1970 and 2000-2002. It found that even when adjusting for family characteristics, they were not able to account for the decline in the impact that low birth weight had on cognition.
They hypothesised that medical advancements have played a major role in the improved prospects for these children. Some of the medical advancements introduced in the 1970s and 1980s that the authors specifically referred to in their study included:
- Neonatal intensive care
- Assisted ventilation
- Neonatal monitoring
- Drugs to treat prematurity
This study really highlights the important role that medical research plays in our society and provides a compelling case study for how rapidly medicine advances in a generation.