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Intrauterine growth and intelligence within sibling pairs: findings from the Mater-University study of pregnancy and its outcomes
  1. Debbie A Lawlor1,
  2. William Bor2,
  3. Michael J O’Callaghan2,
  4. Gail M Williams3,
  5. Jake M Najman3,4
  1. 1Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, UK
  2. 2Child Development and Rehabilitation Services, Mater Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
  3. 3School of Population Health, University of Queensland Medical School, Brisbane, Australia
  4. 4School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr D A Lawlor
 Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK;


Objective: To examine the association between intrauterine growth and intelligence.

Design: Population based birth cohort study of sibling pairs born within a maximum of three years of each other.

Setting: Mater-University women and children’s hospital, Brisbane, Australia.

Participants: 235 (470 children) sibling pairs.

Results: Among one randomly selected sibling from each pair verbal comprehension at age 5, general intelligence at age 14, and reading ability at age 14 increased linearly with increasing gestational age and sex standardised birth weight z scores. With adjustment for maternal age, race, and smoking during pregnancy, birth order, family income, and parental education the associations with verbal comprehension at age 5 and general intelligence at age 14 remained, whereas the association with reading ability at age 14 was attenuated to the null. Within sibling pairs, differences in intrauterine growth were positively associated with differences in verbal comprehension at age 5 (test score difference per one unit difference in birth weight z score  =  1.52 (0.11 to 3.26)) and general intelligence at age 14 (1.09 (0.01 to 2.18)), but not with reading ability at age 14.

Conclusions: Socioeconomic position or other fixed maternal characteristics do not seem to explain the positive association between intrauterine growth and childhood intelligence.

  • birth weight
  • cognitive function
  • sibships

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  • Funding: the core study is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. D A Lawlor is funded by a UK Department of Health Career Scientist Award. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of any funding body.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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