What is the relationship between epilepsy, birth weight and readiness for school? To study this question, Drs. Prasad and Corbett looked at a set of data collected over time from a group of children aged 4 to 5 years old, and compared this data with 20 children diagnosed with epilepsy using survey data collected by Statistics Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (1994-2009).

First, the researchers looked to see if there was a relationship between birth weight and the risk of developing epilepsy. Even when other factors that influence birth weight were accounted for, such as; female gender, or smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy, there was still an association between epilepsy and birth weight. Children with a higher birth weight were less likely to have epilepsy. In fact, the risk of having epilepsy was 86% lower in children who had an average birth weight compared to children who were one kilogram below average birth weight.

Next, they investigated if there was any relationship between how much children weighed at birth and their performance on a school readiness test years later. In this test called the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised (PPVT-R), the children listened to a word and then selected one of four pictures that best described the word’s meaning. Drs. Prasad and Corbett found that children with lower birth weights tended to have lower test scores. This relationship became stronger as the birth weight decreased: the lower the birth weight, the lower the school readiness scores. The presence of epilepsy further reduced the school readiness score by a little over 5 points on average.

In summary, low birth weight may increase the risk of developing epilepsy, and may also affect school readiness. In children with epilepsy, as the birth weight drops lower below average, there is an added negative influence on school readiness.  The researchers suggest that intervening early in pregnancy to reduce the risk of low birth weight babies might help to improve health outcomes.

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