People born early are 13% less likely to be alive and well in adulthood

People who were born early are 13% less likely to be alive and disease-free in adulthood, massive study finds

  • About one in 10 babies born worldwide is born premature 
  • They face greater immediate risks of poor lung function, defective hearts and poor immune systems 
  • A study of 2.5 million people in Sweden found those born two or more weeks early are 13% less likely to be alive and well in adulthood
  • Only 22% of adults who were born between 12 and 17 weeks early were alive and well between ages 18 and 43, Mt Sinai research reveals

People born prematurely are 13 percent less likely to be living, healthy adults compared to those who are born at full-term, a new study reveals. 

And those born extremely early – 17 to 12 weeks preterm – are face a staggering 64 percent worse odds of surviving and thriving in adulthood. 

It wasn’t just that that people born too early suffered higher rates of mental and physical illnesses; they were also less likely to have high levels of education, be employed or well employed or have high-paying jobs, the study found. 

Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York said their results underscore the need for doctors to continuously and closely monitor people who were born prematurely as they grow up and mature. 

Premature babies are less likely to be alive and thriving in adulthood, a new study of 2.5 million people born in Sweden found (file)

Premature babies are less likely to be alive and thriving in adulthood, a new study of 2.5 million people born in Sweden found (file) 

One in 10 babies worldwide is born prematurely, and in the US 450,000 infants a year are premature. 

These babies face challenges that infants carried to full term don’t and are watched closely in the first few few months of their lives. 

Depending on how early they are born, these children may have underdeveloped lungs, hearts and brains. 

Their gastrointestinal systems are also more sensitive and they’re prone to infections in general as their immune systems may be weak. 

Premature babies are also more likely to have steep drops in their red blood cell counts and struggle to control their own temperatures, which can in turn trigger blood sugar and breathing problems.  

Many are kept in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) for several weeks so that if any life-threatening issues arise, doctors can jump to action.

But after those first weeks or months, preemies are largely out of the woods, at least in terms of immediate danger. 

We’ve long been aware that there are some specific health issues that occur at higher rates among people who were born prematurely. 

Adolescent and adult preemies, for example, are at greater risk of learning and behavioral issues, poor vision and hearing, dental issues and asthma. 

The long-term, overall health and well-being of people born early hasn’t been tracked particularly closely, however. 

Scientists have observed links between premature birth and kidney disease, mental disorders, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. asthma and other lung diseases, kidney and liver disease. 

The Mt Sinai researchers followed analyzed health data on 2.5 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 1997 through their adulthoods. 

Using two major indices of health and well-being – that included the aforementioned common conditions, to name a few – they found that people who were born at full-term had better overall health and survival outcomes than those born at anything less than full term. 

Over half – 54.6 percent of those who were born before 37 weeks were alive and disease-free between ages 18 and 43. 

That was only 13 percent fewer than the 63 percent those who were were carried to full term who were alive and well in adulthood. 

But for those born earlier – at 22-27 weeks – odds were substantially worse. 

Only 22.3  percent of them were alive and well in adulthood. 

‘Additional studies are needed to identify protective factors across the life course that enhance resilience and the long-term health trajectory of persons born prematurely, particularly at the earliest gestational ages,’ the study authors wrote. 

‘A life-course approach to health has been declared a major priority by the World Health Organization and will be essential for monitoring and promoting the health of preterm birth survivors across the lifespan.’ 


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