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Thorax. 2009 Mar;64(3):228-32. doi: 10.1136/thx.2008.103978. Epub 2008 Dec 3.

Associations between birth weight, early childhood weight gain and adult lung function.

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  • 1Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.



Low birth weight is associated with lower values for spirometry in adults but it is not known if birth weight influences other measures of pulmonary function. It is also unclear whether postnatal growth affects adult lung function. The associations between birth weight, postnatal growth and adult lung function were assessed in an unselected birth cohort of 1037 children.


Birth weight, weight gain between birth and age 3 years, and lung function at age 32 years were measured. Analyses were adjusted for adult height and sex and further adjusted for multiple other potential confounding factors.


Birth weight was positively correlated with spirometric (forced expiratory volume in 1 s and forced vital capacity) and plethysmographic (total lung capacity and functional residual capacity) lung function and with lung diffusing capacity. These associations persisted after adjustment for confounding factors including adult weight, exposure to cigarette smoke in utero and during childhood, personal smoking, socioeconomic status, asthma and gestational age. Weight gain between birth and age 3 years was also positively associated with lung diffusing capacity, and with higher values of lung volumes in men after adjustment for covariates. Neither birth weight nor postnatal weight gain was associated with airflow obstruction.


Low birth weight and lower weight gain in early childhood are associated with modest reductions in adult lung function across a broad range of measures of lung volumes and with lower diffusing capacity. These findings are independent of a number of potential confounding factors and support the hypothesis that fetal and infant growth is a determinant of adult lung function.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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