Early 'full-term' babies may have poorer respiratory fitness through adolescence and young adulthood

September 27, 2017

DALLAS, Sept. 27, 2017 -- Babies born early in a full-term pregnancy range may be more likely to have poor cardiorespiratory fitness through adolescence and young adulthood, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

"We believe that earlier births -- even within the at-term range -- may interrupt normal development and lead to permanent changes of tissues and organs, thereby affecting cardiorespiratory fitness," said Isabel Ferreira, Ph.D., lead study author and associate professor at The University of Queensland in Australia. "As such, recent trends towards deliveries at shorter gestational lengths within the at-term period are worrisome."

Cardiorespiratory fitness reflects the ability of the body to supply oxygen to muscles during physical activity. It also affects metabolic and cardiovascular health throughout a person's lifetime.

Previous studies have reported lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels among individuals born prematurely. However, these effects are largely unknown in the context of full-term births.

This Northern Ireland-based study, the first of its kind, examined 791 participants born within the full-term range of 37-42 weeks. Their cardiorespiratory fitness was determined at ages 12, 15 and 22 by measuring their maximal oxygen uptake level after undergoing standardized physical tests.

Researchers found:

They also found that diet, physical activity and smoking behavior of the participants did not affect their findings.

Given the strong links between cardiorespiratory fitness and other cardiometabolic risk factors in youth and later in life, these findings suggest that individuals born early-term may be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. They may also be at a higher risk of suffering cardiac events in middle-age, researchers said.

According to Ferreira, these results should help shape policies to deter current trends towards avoidable deliveries at lower gestational ages.

"Healthcare providers and mothers should be informed of the lifelong health risks that early-term deliveries may have on their offspring and refrain from these (e.g., scheduled caesarean sections or induced labor) unless there is a medical indication to anticipate deliveries," said Ferreira.
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Co-authors of this study are Pei T. Gbatu, Ph.D. and Colin A. Boreham, Ph.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

The study was funded by The British Heart Foundation.

Additional Resources:

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association's policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at http://www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke - the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation's oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

American Heart Association

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