Body Size and Intelligence in 6-year-olds: Are Offspring of Teenage Mothers at Risk?

  • Marie D. Cornelius
  • Lidush Goldschmidt
  • Jennifer A. Willford
  • Sharon L. Leech
  • Cynthia Larkby
  • Nancy L. Day


Objectives Children born to teenage mothers are at risk for more physical and cognitive problems than those born to adult mothers. Our objective was to examine differences in size and intelligence between two cohorts of offspring born to adolescent (n = 357) and adult mothers (n = 668) who attended the same prenatal clinic. Methods Two prospective study cohorts assessed children from gestation through age 6 years. The adult cohort was studied in the mid-1980’s and the teen cohort was evaluated in the mid-1990’s. Both samples were of low socio-economic status. The same study design and measures allowed us to adjust for the covariates of size and IQ. Results Offspring of adolescent mothers had a significantly smaller mean head circumference (5 mm) (HC) and higher body mass index (BMI) than offspring of adult mothers. Offspring of adolescent mothers scored significantly lower than the offspring of adult mothers on the Stanford-Binet (SBIS) composite score (4 points), and the quantitative (6.2 points), verbal reasoning (4.8 points), and short-term memory (3.9 points) area scores. Additional predictors of child IQ were maternal IQ, home environment, race, and number of siblings. When child HC was entered into our final regression model for the SBIS, maternal age and HC significantly predicted the composite score, the verbal reasoning, and short-term memory area scores. A 1 cm decrease in HC predicted a 1 point decrease in the SBIS composite score. Conclusions Compared to offspring of adult women, children of adolescent mothers have lower mean scores on cognitive measures, smaller head circumference, and higher BMI. These differences were significant after adjusting for differences between the two groups. Adolescent mothers and their children would benefit from interventions such as parenting support, education about nutritional needs, and advice on enriching the environments of their children.


Children Teenage mothers Cognitive development Growth IQ BMI 



This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (DA03874 PI: N Day; DA09275 PI: M Cornelius) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA06666 PI: N Day; AA08284; PI: M Cornelius). The authors thank the young women and children who made this study possible by contributing their time and sharing their experiences with our interviewers and field staff.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie D. Cornelius
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lidush Goldschmidt
    • 3
  • Jennifer A. Willford
    • 1
  • Sharon L. Leech
    • 3
  • Cynthia Larkby
    • 1
  • Nancy L. Day
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and EpidemiologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.University of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA

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