Measuring the impact of deprivation on learning difficulties and behaviour among infants born preterm: A cohort study

Isaac, T.C.W., Odd, D., Edwards, M., Chakraborty, M., Kotecha, S. J., Kotecha, S., Odd, D. | JNPM 2024;

BACKGROUND: Preterm birth and social deprivation are known risk factors for learning difficulties. However there has been little work looking into the interaction between these two risks. We aimed to identify if children born preterm to families with higher levels of social deprivation are disproportionately more likely to have learning difficulties than those with lower levels of social deprivation. METHODS: Data from the RANOPS (Respiratory And Neurological Outcomes in children born Preterm Study) was used to assess prevalence of learning difficulties. The effects of preterm birth and deprivation were reviewed. Multi-level logistic regression models were used to examine if gestational age and deprivation impacts interacted after adjustment for possible confounders. Primary outcome measure was parent-reported learning difficulties. Secondary outcome measures were parent-reported behavioural problems and a statement of special educational need. RESULTS: We investigated the developmental outcomes of 6,691 infants with a median age of 5 years at time of survey (IQR 5). Deprivation decile (OR 1.08 (1.03,1.12)) and preterm birth (OR 2.67 (2.02,3.53)) were both associated with increased risk of learning difficulties. There was little evidence for any interaction between preterm birth and deprivation (p = 0.298) and the risk of learning difficulties. CONCLUSIONS: Deprivation and preterm birth have significant associations with learning difficulties. While deprivation does not appear to have potentiated the impact of preterm birth, preterm infants in the most deprived areas have the highest risk of learning difficulties with almost 1 in 3 extremely premature infants with a learning difficulty in the most deprived areas.

*Corresponding Author: 

Thomas Isaac, MBChB MRCPCH, The Children’s Centre, Gloucester Royal Hospital, Gloucester, GL13NN, UK. Tel.: +44 3004222222; E-mail: