Research Article: The relationship between birth season and early childhood development: Evidence from northwest rural China

Date Published: October 11, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Yu Bai, Guanminjia Shang, Lei Wang, Yonglei Sun, Annie Osborn, Scott Rozelle, Kenji J. Tsuchiya.


To examine the correlation between birth season and early childhood development.

Almost all previous studies that examine the effect of birth season on early childhood development were conducted in developed countries with a limited sample size. The present study was conducted in poor, rural areas of western China, a developing region with a continental monsoon climate.

We administered a hemoglobin test to 650 infants (52% boys), aged 8–10 months, using a Hemocue Hb 201+ finger prick system, and assessed the cognitive and psychomotor development of sample infants using Bayley Scales of Infant Development.

Infants born in winter have higher Hb concentrations (t = 3.63, p < 0.001) compared to infants born in summer. Similarly, cognitive development scores (t = 5.17, p < 0.001) and psychomotor development scores (t = 10.60, p < 0.001) were significantly higher among winter-born infants. The findings point to the involvement of birth season in early childhood development and suggest that aspects of the environment shape the experiences that contribute to early childhood development. Policy suggestions such as providing infants with ample opportunities for movement and stimulation during the cold season are discussed.

Partial Text

The first years of life comprise a critical development period that affects lifelong outcomes. This period has been identified as an important window for skill formation, especially for cognitive development [1]. Research on child development emphasizes the importance of the ‘first 1000 days,’ including the prenatal period and first two-plus years after birth; research is clear that the results of nutrition and stimulation deficits during this period are difficult to reverse [2–6]. Long-term follow-ups of experiments that increased investments in the nutrition, health, and stimulation of young children have shown positive consequences on later-life outcomes, including higher educational attainment, higher earnings, better adult health, and even lower participation in crime [3,6–10].

We sampled 650 infants (52% boys) aged 8–10 months. According to our data, around 4.6% of the sample infants were premature. The mother was the primary caregiver for 85.9% of the sampled infants. The majority of the mothers (74.9%) had completed at least junior high school; half (49.7%) were over 25 years old. Nearly 21.9% of sample families reported receiving ‘minimum-living-standard guarantee payments,’ a form of government welfare available for China’s lowest income families. Summary statistics for our sample are presented in Table 1.

The current study examined the seasonality effect on early childhood development by comparing infants born in different seasons in poor rural Qinba mountainous area in China, which is characterized by a continental monsoon climate. This study represents the largest administrations of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID) ever conducted in rural communities. The data collected include a rich set of indicators on early childhood development and its relevant factors, including cognitive and psychomotor development, nutrition and health, and feeding behavior. This study is also the first, to the best of our knowledge, to investigate the relationship between season of birth and early childhood development in rural China.




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