What happens in the womb dictates how well a child does at school

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Australian scientists have found that a person's intelligence starts before birth and they say healthy fetal growth helps to improve a child's performance at school.

The scientists at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth say they have revealed a link between healthy growth in the womb and improved numeracy and literacy skills in early primary school and healthy fetal growth not only helps to improve a child's performance at school, but it may contribute towards closing the achievement gap for children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Professor Fiona Stanley, the Institute's Director and the study's co-author, says the findings reinforce the need for better integration of health and education policy and services and gives an example of the need for joined up thinking so that the pathways into improved education include maternal and child health.

Professor Stanley says one of the most important things governments can do to boost educational outcomes could be to improve the health of pregnant women, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

Professor Stanley says it is already known that drugs such as alcohol and tobacco restrict a baby's growth in the womb so supporting mothers and giving them the information they need to have healthier pregnancies is really necessary.

The study, made possible by a collaboration between the Institute and the WA Departments of Education and Training and Health, allowed the de-identified linking of midwife records and standardised testing (WALNA) results from more than 55,000 children - Professor Stanley says this is the first time they been able to match birth and educational information and identify some of the broad factors that are linked to educational success.

Professor Stanley says it is particularly interesting that good fetal growth appears to give children from disadvantaged areas a comparatively better start and says it is often too easy to blame schools for poor results and it might be more accurate to start asking about the quality and availability of healthcare, childcare and local government services in that area.

Professor Stanley says schools can provide good education for children but the task may be easier if the child enters school with healthy brain development and ready to learn.

Professor Stanley said the findings should not alarm mothers who had difficult pregnancies as the study examined broad trends which warrant policy intervention and she says on an individual scale, involved and active parents can make an enormous difference to their child's educational attainment and well being.

The research was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council Linkage Project Grant and is published in the international Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and American Journal of Epidemiology.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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