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Original Research: Pulmonary Physiology |

The Impact of Birth Weight on Peak Lung Function in Young AdultsImpact of Birth Weight on Peak Lung Function

Sadasivam Suresh, MBBS; Abdullah A. Mamun, PhD; Michael O’Callaghan, MBBS; Peter D. Sly, DSc
Author and Funding Information

From the School of Population Health (Drs Suresh and Mamun); Queensland Children’s Medical Research Institute (Drs Suresh and Sly); the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health (Dr O’Callaghan), School of Medicine, University of Queensland; and Department of Paediatric Respiratory and Sleep Medicine (Dr Suresh) and Department of Developmental Paediatrics (Dr O’Callaghan), Mater Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.

Correspondence to: Sadasivam Suresh, MBBS, Department of Paediatric Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Mater Children’s Hospital, South Brisbane, 4101, QLD, Australia; e-mail: sadasivamsuresh@gmail.com


Funding/Support: Funding was received from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians. See online for more details.


Chest. 2012;142(6):1603-1610. doi:10.1378/chest.11-2976
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Background:  Poor fetal growth rate, as indicated by lower birth weight, is associated with lower respiratory function in childhood; however, findings in adult life remain inconsistent. A birth cohort provides the opportunity to study the association between birth weight and adult respiratory function.

Methods:  The present study data are from a longitudinal birth cohort, the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy. Prospective data were available from 2,368 young adults who underwent standard spirometry when 21 years old. Pregnancy and birth-related variables collected were birth weight, placental weight, parental height, maternal educational status, maternal smoking history in pregnancy, and maternal history of alcohol, tea, and coffee consumption during pregnancy. The impact of birth weight on adult lung function was assessed using univariate and multivariate analyses.

Results:  For every 100-g increase in birth weight, FVC (95% CI) at 21 years increased by 24 mL (15-32) in men and 20 mL (13-27) in women, and the increase in FEV1 (CI) was 22 mL (15-30) and 16 mL (11-22), respectively. These associations remain after adjusting for lifestyle factors during pregnancy, current smoking, and parental height. However, further adjustment for adult height reduces the strength of association and remains significant for FEV1: 8 mL (1-14) in men and 5 mL (1-10) in women, but not for FVC: 7 mL (−1-14) in men and 5 mL (−1-11) in women.

Conclusion:  Our longitudinal cohort study provides evidence of robust links between birth weight and adult lung function at the age of 21 years. Various estimates of the effect size in the literature may be related to the age at assessment.

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