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Premature birth and low birth weight can cause later health problems

Katarina Ekholm Selling

Katarina Ekholm Selling

Premature infants and others with a sub-normal birth weight risk hospitalization in adult life, according to a study by LiU scientist Katarina Ekholm Selling.

Around five of 100 Swedish infants are born prematurely, at least three weeks before the reckoned delivery date. Nearly as many have a birth weight under the norm.

Apart from the obvious risks—complications during delivery and the neonatal period and increased mortality in the short-term—earlier studies correlate adult health problems and premature birth or low birth weight.

Epidemiologist and statistician Katarina Ekholm Selling at the Department for Obstetrics and Gynecology has analyzed data for all births in Sweden between 1973-75, around 300 000. Using national data bases, she has followed-up all the infants to the present day.

Her findings are presented in a doctoral thesis. Premies and infants with low birth weight have a higher risk of hospitalization in their teens and early adulthood. Typical causes are deformities and neurological disease. Katarina Ekholm Selling also discerned an overrepresentation of social disease such as drug addiction and a number of diffuse symptoms difficult to diagnose.

A significant finding is that women who had low birth weight—especially weights under 1500 kg—tended to have fewer children than women whose birth weight was normal. Women in the first-named category gave birth to have underweight or premature infants.

"However it is important to differentiate between 'statistical risk' and 'individual risk', Katarina Ekholm Selling points out. Epidemiological studies span a large population base. But an individual who was born prematurely or underweight can influence health status by living soundly—eat properly, exercise, avoid drugs and other common sense measures.


Page manager: therese.winder@liu.se
Last updated: 2009-06-03