A University of Iowa study finds children who were conceived using in vitro fertilization, or IVF, perform at least as well as their peers on academic tests — and in some cases, score higher. Dr. Bradley Van Voorhis, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the U-of-I, says this is the largest study of its kind on the subject.

“We’re interpreting the findings as meaning there’s no adverse effect that we can determine from IVF,” Dr. Van Voorhis says. “We’re a little reluctant to say that by doing IVF, kids actually achieve better on their testing, rather, we’re saying we don’t think there’s any evidence of a detrimental effect.”

Van Voorhis, who’s director of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care at the U-of-I Hospitals and Clinics, says IVF is still a relatively new procedure. It’s been used for about 30 years and is considered highly-effective in enabling infertile couples to conceive. Still, IFV costs between 12 and 15-thousand dollars per cycle, an expense Van Voorhis says makes it available only to certain couples. Thus, that may have an impact on the study.

“It’s possible that the kids’ parents were better educated so there may be some genetic influence,” Van Voorhis says. “It’s also possible that the kids who were conceived by IVF were from a higher socio-economic status which is also linked to better test scores.” More than 460 Iowa children who were IVF babies were compared to some 370 age- and gender-matched peers from the same Iowa schools. They ranged from grades seven through 12.

The study also showed that different IVF procedures — using fresh versus frozen embryos — and different methods of insemination had no effect on children’s test scores. Several factors which researchers thought might have an influence on test scores did end up being an issue, while he says other factors are still a bit of a mystery.

“The higher the mother’s or father’s education was, the higher test scores the kids got,” Van Voorhis says. “Likewise, if a child was in a family where divorce had occurred, than lower scores were found. What was also interesting though was that we found that the older the mother at the time of delivery, the higher test scores of the children.” He speculates that older mothers who use IVF may have fewer children and are able to pay more attention to the child.

Among children born by IVF, the researchers did find a potentially concerning trend toward worse test scores for multiple births — single babies performed better than twins, who performed better than triplets. The study is being published in the October issue of the journal Human Reproduction.