Also, low-birth-weight kids from urban communities may be more likely to have attention problems than suburban low-birth-weight children.
Previous studies have found that low-birth-weight children appear to have an increased risk of internalizing, externalizing and attention problems.
In the new study, Kipling M. Bohnert, B.A., and Naomi Breslau, Ph.D., of Michigan State University, East Lansing, examined the long-term association between low-birth-weight and psychiatric problems among 413 children from a socially disadvantaged community in Detroit and 410 children from a middle-class Detroit suburb.
Children's psychiatric disturbances were rated by mothers and teachers at ages 6, 11 and 17.
Psychiatric disturbances were separated into three categories: externalizing, including delinquent and aggressive behaviour; internalizing, including withdrawn behaviour and anxiety/depression; and attention, including characteristic symptoms of ADHD such as not being able to pay attention for long or difficulty following directions.
Low-birth-weight children were more likely to exhibit externalizing and internalizing problems than normal-birth-weight children in their community.
"An increased risk of attention problems was associated with low birth weight only in the urban community and was greater among very low-birth-weight children (weighing 1,500 grams or less) than heavier low-birth-weight children (weighing 1,501 grams to 2,500 grams)," the authors said.
"In the suburban community, there was no increased risk for attention problems associated with low birth weight. Psychiatric outcomes of low birth weight did not vary across ages of assessments."
"Attention problems at the start of schooling predict lower academic achievement later, controlling for key factors that contribute to academic test scores, which in turn predicts termination of schooling and curtailed educational attainment.
"Attention problems influence academic performance by reducing the time that students devote to class learning and homework assignments and hinder organization and work habits.
"Early interventions to improve attention skills in urban low-birth-weight children might yield better outcomes later," they added.
The study is published in the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.