Pyhälä R, Wolford E, Kautiainen H, Andersson S, Bartmann P, Baumann N, Brubakk AM, Evensen KA, Hovi P, Kajantie E, Lahti M, Van Lieshout RJ, Saigal S, Schmidt LA, Indredavik MS, Wolke D, Räikkönen K.
CONTEXT: Preterm birth increases the risk for mental disorders in adulthood, yet findings on abstract self-reported or subclinical mental health problems are mixed.
OBJECTIVE: To study self-reported mental health problems among adults born preterm at very low birth weight (VLBW; ≤1500 g) compared with term controls in an individual participant data meta-analysis.
DATA SOURCES: Adults Born Preterm International Collaboration.
STUDY SELECTION: Studies that compared self-reported mental health problems using the Achenbach Young Adult Self Report or Adult Self Report between adults born preterm at VLBW (n = 747) and at term (n = 1512).
DATA EXTRACTION: We obtained individual participant data from 6 study cohorts and compared preterm and control groups by mixed random coefficient linear and Tobit regression.
RESULTS: Adults born preterm reported more internalizing (pooled β = .06; 95% confidence interval .01 to .11) and avoidant personality problems (.11; .05 to .17), and less externalizing (–.10; –.15 to –.06), rule breaking (–.10; –.15 to –.05), intrusive behavior (–.14; –.19 to –.09), and antisocial personality problems (–.09; –.14 to –.04) than controls. Group differences did not systematically vary by sex, intrauterine growth pattern, neurosensory impairments, or study cohort.
LIMITATIONS: Exclusively self-reported data are not confirmed by alternative data sources.
CONCLUSIONS: Self-reports of adults born preterm at VLBW reveal a heightened risk for internalizing problems and socially avoidant personality traits together with a lowered risk for externalizing problem types. Our findings support the view that preterm birth constitutes an early vulnerability factor with long-term consequences on the individual into adulthood.