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Associations between early infections and childhood cognition in the Newcastle Thousand Families Study birth cohort

Lookup NU author(s): Erin PennockORCiD, Dr Emma SlackORCiD, Lara Forster, Professor Mark PearceORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Childhood infections have been shown to stunt growth, contribute to malnutrition and reduce cognition in early adulthood. This study aimed to assess relationships between early life infections and childhood cognition at age 11 years in the Newcastle Thousand Families Study (NTFS). The analysis included 741 members from the NTFS who had complete data for infections between birth and 5 years, and the 11-plus examinations. School records from the 11-plus examinations showed cognitive (IQ), English (EQ) and arithmetic (AQ) abilities. Housing conditions, overcrowding, birth order and social class were recorded at birth. Helicobacter pylori seropositivity was measured at age 49–51 years. Multivariable linear regression was used to examine relationships between infections and cognition. The total number of infections in the first 5 years of life was not significantly associated with IQ, EQ or AQ, nor were there significant relationships between cognitive outcomes and most infections. Tonsillitis did display a positive, significant association with IQ after adjustment for confounders (b = 6.43, 95% CI 0.92, 11.94, p = 0.022). Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) showed significant negative relationships with all cognitive outcomes. H. pylori seropositivity at age 50 exhibited negative, significant relationships with EQ (p = 0.014) and AQ (p = 0.024) after adjustment for confounders. Although no significant relationship between overall infections and cognition were found, there were indications that LRTIs and gastrointestinal system infections may limit cognitive development. Given these infections remain prevalent, further research regarding severity and recurrence of infections and how they affect childhood cognition is needed. 10.1017/S2040174423000338

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pennock E, Slack EL, Grebby JA, Forster LN, Pearce MS

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease

Year: 2023

Volume: 14

Issue: 5

Pages: 648-657

Online publication date: 29/11/2023

Acceptance date: 10/11/2023

Date deposited: 30/11/2023

ISSN (print): 2040-1744

ISSN (electronic): 2040-1752

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S2040174423000338


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