Public Release: 

Birth weight related to mental ability and educational performance

Center for Advancing Health

Birth weight is significantly associated with cognitive (mental) ability at age 8 years, through adolescence, and into early adulthood, independent of social background. Furthermore, birth weight is also associated with educational performance, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers at the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (the British 1946 birth cohort), based at University College London, examined the association between birth weight and cognitive ability in 3,900 males and females born in 1946, who had had cognitive assessments from childhood to middle life (measured at ages 8, 11, 15, 26 and 43). They also examined the association between birth weight and educational attainment in this group.

Birth weight was significantly and positively associated with cognitive ability at age 8 across the full birth weight range in the normal population, even after factors such as sex, father's social class, and mother's education and age were taken into account. This association was also seen at ages 11, 15 and 26, but at age 43, birth weight had no significant effect on any of the test scores. Birth weight was also associated with education, with those of higher birth weight more likely to have achieved higher qualifications.

Despite some inevitable limitations, these results support the view that birth weight is related to cognitive performance independently of social background, conclude the authors.


Contact: Marcus Richards, MRC National Survey of Health and Development, University College London, UK Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 1720 Fax: +44 (0)20 7813 0280 Email:

This release is reproduced verbatim and with permission from the British Medical Association as a service to reporters interested in health and behavioral change. Please contact Public Affairs Division for the text of the paper, and the authors direct for further comment. For further information about The British Medical Journal or to obtain a copy of the article, please contact Public Affairs Division, British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, Tel: 020 7383 6254 or email: After 6 p.m. and on weekends telephone: +44 (0)208 241 6386 / +44 (0)208 997 3653/+44 (0)208 674 6294 / +44 (0)1525 379792 / +44 (0)208 651 5130.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health . For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, (202) 387-2829.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.