What your birth month says about your health

Using a novel computational method, Columbia University scientists have found 55 diseases to be associated with birth month

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 8:40am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 12:49pm

Celebrated your birthday last month? Happy belated birthday and here’s some good news: May babies have the lowest overall risk of disease compared to people born during other times of the year, according to new research from Columbia University.

On the other hand, October babies have been found to have the highest overall risk of disease, say the scientists in their report published in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association earlier this week.

Asthma risk is greatest for those born in July and October, March babies have the highest risk for atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and mitral valve disorder, while being born in November puts you at greatest risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

(Here's a text document of all the associations found: Breakdown of disease risk by birth month).

WATCH a video of Dr Nick Tatonetti explaining his study

"This data could help scientists uncover new disease risk factors," says study senior author Nicholas Tatonetti, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University Medical Centre and Columbia's Data Science Institute.

But don’t get too worried about the findings. Tatonetti notes: "It's important not to get overly nervous about these results because even though we found significant associations the overall disease risk is not that great. The risk related to birth month is relatively minor when compared to more influential variables like diet and exercise."

It’s important also to remember that the findings relate to New York’s population and climate. For example, an earlier Danish study on the disease found that the peak asthma risk was in the months (May and August) when Denmark's sunlight levels are similar to New York's in the July and October period.

The link between birth month with neurological, reproductive, endocrine and immune/inflammatory disorders, as well as overall lifespan, dates back nearly 2,500 years ago to Hippocrates, who described a connection between seasonality and disease: “For knowing the changes of the seasons … how each of them takes place, he [the clinician] will be able to know beforehand what sort of a year is going to ensue … for with the seasons the digestive organs of men undergo a change.”

Earlier research on individual diseases such as ADHD and asthma suggested a connection between birth season and incidence, but no large-scale studies had been undertaken. This motivated Columbia's scientists to compare 1,688 diseases against the birth dates and medical histories of 1.7 million patients treated at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/CUMC between 1985 and 2013.

Tatonetti and colleagues developed a computational method to investigate the relationship between birth month and disease risk. Using the algorithm, they ruled out more than 1,600 associations and confirmed 39 links previously reported in the medical literature. They also uncovered 16 new associations, including nine types of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.

The research team found 55 diseases that correlated with the season of birth. They performed statistical tests to check that these 55 diseases for which they found associations did not arise by chance.

"Faster computers and electronic health records are accelerating the pace of discovery," says the study's lead author, Mary Regina Boland, a graduate student at Columbia. "We are working to help doctors solve important clinical problems using this new wealth of data."

The researchers plan to replicate their study with data from several other locations in the US and abroad to see how results vary with the change of seasons and environmental factors in those places. By identifying what's causing disease disparities by birth month, the researchers hope to figure out how they might close the gap.