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Pediatrics. 2007 Jul;120(1):70-7.

Preterm infants as young adults: a Swedish national cohort study.

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Karolinska Institute, Department of Clinical Sciences and Education, Sachs Children's Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.

Erratum in

  • Pediatrics. 2007 Oct;120(4):936.



Increasing numbers of infants born preterm survive into adulthood. In this study, we analyzed the effect of having been born preterm on disability and vocational success in young adults.


A Swedish national cohort of 522,310 infants born in 1973-1979 were followed up for disabilities and income in national registers in 2002 at the age of 23 to 29. Hypotheses were tested in multivariate analysis with logistic regression models on the log scale for dichotomized outcomes and linear regression for continuous variables.


There was a stepwise increase in disability in young adulthood with increasing degree of preterm birth. A total of 13.2% of children born at 24 to 28 weeks' gestation and 5.6% born at 29 to 32 weeks' gestation received economic assistance from society because of handicap or persistent illness, which is equivalent to nearly 4 [corrected] times the risk of those born at term after adjustment for socioeconomic and perinatal confounders. Moderate (33-36 weeks' gestation) and marginal (37-38 weeks' gestation) preterm birth also carried significantly increased risks for disability and were responsible for 74% of the total disability associated with preterm birth. Preterm birth was associated with a lower chance of completing a university education and a lower net salary in a stepwise manner. The total economic gain for Swedish society, in terms of taxes and decreased costs for benefits, if all long-term effects of preterm birth could have been prevented in the birth cohorts in this study, would have amounted to 65 million euros in 2002 alone.


The majority of adults who were born very preterm lived an independent and self-supportive life. Moderately preterm birth carries a considerable risk for long-term impairment. There are strong economic incentives for secondary prevention of disability associated with preterm birth.

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