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Arch Dis Child. 2001 Sep;85(3):189-96.

Birth weight and cognitive function at age 11 years: the Scottish Mental Survey 1932.

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  • 1Geriatric Medicine, Department of Clinical and Surgical Sciences, University of Edinburgh, 21 Chalmers Street, Edinburgh EH3 9EW, UK.



To examine the relation between birth weight and cognitive function at age 11 years, and to examine whether this relation is independent of social class.


Retrospective cohort study based on birth records from 1921 and cognitive function measured while at school at age 11 in 1932. Subjects were 985 live singletons born in the Edinburgh Royal Maternity and Simpson Memorial Hospital in 1921. Moray House Test scores from the Scottish Mental Survey 1932 were traced on 449 of these children.


Mean score on Moray House Test increased from 30.6 at a birth weight of <2500 g to 44.7 at 4001-4500 g, after correcting for gestational age, maternal age, parity, social class, and legitimacy of birth. Multiple regression showed that 15.6% of the variance in Moray House Test score is contributed by a combination of social class (6.6%), birth weight (3.8%), child's exact age (2.4%), maternal parity (2.0%), and illegitimacy (1.5%). Structural equation modelling confirmed the independent contribution from each of these variables in predicting cognitive ability. A model in which birth weight acted as a mediator of social class had poor fit statistics.


In this 1921 birth cohort, social class and birth weight have independent effects on cognitive function at age 11. Future research will relate these childhood data to health and cognition in old age.

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