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Pediatrics. 2000 Jun;105(6):E76.

Health of children adopted from China.

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  • 1International Adoption Clinic, Floating Hospital for Children, New England Medical Center, Boston, MA 02111, USA.



Since 1989, American parents have adopted 18 846 Chinese children. This study assesses the health and developmental status of these children after their arrival in the United States.


A total of 452 children (443 girls) in 2 groups were evaluated. The clinic group children (n = 192) included all Chinese adoptees seen in an international adoption clinic between 1991 and 1998. The travel group comprised 260 of 325 Chinese children placed by a single Massachusetts adoption agency between 1991 and 1996 whose adoptive parents and American physicians responded to mailed questionnaires. One hundred ninety-one of the travel group children were cared for by 1 of us (N.W.H.) during the adoption process in China.


Growth and developmental delays were frequent in the clinic group. Z scores </=-2 were found in 39% of children for height, 18% for weight, and 24% for head circumference. The duration of orphanage confinement was inversely proportional to the linear height lag (r =.9), with a loss of 1 month of height age for every 2. 86 months in the orphanage. Of the children, 75% had significant developmental delay in at least 1 domain: gross motor in 55%, fine motor in 49%, cognitive in 32%, language in 43%, social-emotional in 28%, activities of daily living in 30%, and global delays in 44%. The incidence of medical problems was similar in both groups of children (travel group and clinic group). Overall, among the 452 children, elevated lead levels were found in 14%, anemia in 35%, abnormal thyroid function tests in 10%, hepatitis B surface antigen in 6%, hepatitis B surface antibody in 22%, intestinal parasites (usually Giardia) in 9%, and positive skin test results for tuberculosis in 3.5%. One child each had hepatitis C exposure and congenital syphilis. No child had human immunodeficiency virus infection. Unsuspected significant medical diagnoses, including hearing loss, orthopedic problems, and congenital anomalies, were found in 18% (81/452) of the children.


Chinese adoptees display a similar pattern of growth and developmental delays and medical problems as seen in other groups of internationally adopted children. An exception is the increased incidence of elevated lead levels (overall 14%). Although serious medical and developmental issues were found among the children, overall their condition was better than expected based on recent publicity about conditions in the Chinese orphanages. The long-term outcome of these children remains unknown. China, adoption, orphanage, institutionalized child.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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