Teen dads' babies at risk for problems at birth
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The babies of teenage fathers are at higher risk for problems such as premature birth, low birth weight and neonatal death, Canadian researchers said on Wednesday.
The researchers looked at records relating to 2.6 million babies born in the United States between 1995 and 2000, and found a relationship between the age of the father and the health of the infant.
The babies of fathers age 19 and under were more likely to experience problems, according to the study.
"This group is at high risk," epidemiologist Shi Wu Wen of the Ottawa Health Research Institute and the University of Ottawa, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.
Compared to babies of fathers ages 20 to 29 -- the group with the best record for healthy offspring -- those with teenage dads were 15 percent more likely to be born prematurely and 13 percent more likely to have a low birth weight.
In addition, babies with teenage fathers had a 22 percent higher risk to die in the first four weeks after birth, a 41 percent increased risk to die in the period from four weeks to a year after birth, and a 13 percent higher risk to have a low Apgar score assessing physical condition after delivery.
The study was published in the journal Human Reproduction.
Wen noted that previous research had found that babies of teenage mothers were at heightened risk for these types of problems, regardless of the age of the father.
The new study focused on the father by looking at children whose mothers were ages 20 to 29 but whose fathers were of varying ages, ranging from teenagers to men over 50.
Wen said his team previously found that babies whose fathers were over age 50 were at higher risk for problems such as heart defects and Down syndrome.
The new study did not look specifically at birth defects. But for babies whose fathers were in their 40s or older, the study detected no elevated risk for premature birth, neonatal death or the other adverse outcomes the researchers tracked.
The study did not say why babies of teenage fathers were at higher risk. Wen said social factors were a more likely explanation than possible biological reasons such as differences in the sperm of teenagers compared to older men.
The researchers said no information was available on the socioeconomic status or lifestyle of the fathers in the study.
But they said teenage fathers are more likely to come from poor families and have less education. Wen said the poor may be less likely to use prenatal health services.
He said other factors that may be more likely with teenage fathers that could harm a mother's health during pregnancy include domestic violence, smoking and substance abuse.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)