Hastie CE, Mackay DF, Clemens TL, Cherrie MPC, King A, Dibben C, Pell JP

Scientific Reports (2019) 9(9356):1-9

Learning disability varies by month of conception. The underlying mechanism is unknown but vitamin D, necessary for normal brain development, is commonly deficient over winter in high latitude countries due to insufficient ultraviolet radiation. We linked the 2007–2016 Scottish School Pupil Censuses to Scottish maternity records and to sunshine hours and antenatal ultraviolet A/B radiation exposure derived from weather stations and satellites respectively. Logistic regression analyses were used to explore the associations between solar radiation, then ultraviolet B, and learning disabilities, adjusting for the potential confounding effects of month of conception and sex. Of the 422,512 eligible, singleton schoolchildren born at term in Scotland, 79,616 (18.8%) had a learning disability. Total antenatal sunshine hours (highest quintile; adjusted OR 0.89; 95% CI: 0.86, 0.93; p < 0.001) and ultraviolet B exposure (highest quintile; adjusted OR 0.55; 95% CI: 0.51, 0.60; p < 0.001) were inversely associated with learning disabilities with evidence of a dose-relationship. The latter association was independent of ultraviolet A exposure. Significant associations were demonstrated for exposure in all three trimesters. Low maternal exposure to ultraviolet B radiation may play a role in the seasonal patterning of learning disabilities. Further studies are required to corroborate findings and determine the effectiveness of supplements.