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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 25;6(3):e17700. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017700.

Resting energy expenditure in young adults born preterm--the Helsinki study of very low birth weight adults.

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  • 1Diabetes Prevention Unit, Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Oulu, Finland.



Adults born preterm with very low birth weight (VLBW; < 1500 g) have higher levels of cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors than their counterparts born at term. Resting energy expenditure (REE) could be one factor contributing to, or protecting from, these risks. We studied the effects of premature birth with VLBW on REE.


We used indirect calorimetry to measure REE and dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) to measure lean body mass (LBM) in 116 VLBW and in 118 term-born control individuals (mean age: 22.5 years, SD 2.2) participating in a cohort study. Compared with controls VLBW adults had 6.3% lower REE (95% CI 3.2, 9.3) adjusted for age and sex, but 6.1% higher REE/LBM ratio (95% CI 3.4, 8.6). These differences remained similar when further adjusted for parental education, daily smoking, body fat percentage and self-reported leisure time exercise intensity, duration and frequency.


Adults born prematurely with very low birth weight have higher resting energy expenditure per unit lean body mass than their peers born at term. This is not explained by differences in childhood socio-economic status, current fat percentage, smoking or leisure time physical activity. Presence of metabolically more active tissue could protect people with very low birth weight from obesity and subsequent risk of chronic disease.

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