Fact Sheet

Can a test for newborns predict school success?

The generations-old Apgar test scores an infant's health, but some are wondering if it can also determine academic success in later life

Since the 1950s, the Apgar test — a brief physical examination given in the minutes after a baby is born — has been used to determine the overall health of newborns. Researchers now believe that the results of the test might also be used to predict how well a child will do in school many years later. How? Here, a brief guide:

What does the Apgar test measure?
Developed in 1952 by Dr. Virginia Apgar, the test is given in the first five minutes after a child is born. Using a scale of one to 10, the Apgar test measures heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, skin color, and reflex irritability. A score of eight or higher is generally considered a sign of good pediatric health.

What about kids with lower scores?
After looking at 877,000 children and adolescents in Sweden, doctors compared their academic success with their earlier Apgar scores. Children and teens with Apgar scores below seven had roughly double the odds of attending a special school because of cognitive defects or other concerns.

Is a child with a low score destined to have problems later?
Not at all. Researchers are quick to caution that the Apgar score itself isn't predictive, especially on an individual basis. "Most babies who have Apgar scores of seven or less do perfectly fine," says Dr. Richard Polin of Columbia University. In the study, only one out of every 44 children with low Apgar scores was found to eventually need special education, so parents need not be overly worried.

What's behind this correlation?
The Apgar score itself isn't all that revealing; what's more significant are the underlying causes that could produce a lower score. Those causes may include problems like asphyxiation, pre-term delivery, maternal drug use, or infections. Such complications can produce a lower Apgar score, but also cause developmental problems later in life that may hinder academic success. "It is not the Apgar score in itself that leads to lower cognitive abilities," says study author Dr. Andrea Stuart, as quoted by LiveScience. "It is the reasons leading to a low Apgar score that might have an impact on future brain function."

Sources: Daily Mail, LiveScience, MyHealthNewsDaily

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