"In our study the percentage of respiratory disease attributable to moderately or very low birth weight was estimated to be 1.8 percent. If this were extrapolated to the 1.2 million U.S. hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses per year for ages 18 to 44, low birth weight may account for over 22,000 adult hospitalizations per year, with charges in excess of $225 million per year," said Dr. Walter.
While the study did not distinguish between premature birth and retardation of in utero development as causes of low birth weight, previous research has found that both conditions increase risk of abnormal pulmonary function in adolescence and adulthood.
Dr. Walter notes that maternal smoking is a risk factor for low birth weight, and that children of mothers who smoked are more likely to smoke themselves. The relationship, therefore, is difficult to fully tease apart. "It is unknown if adults with a history of low birth weight are more likely to smoke than adults with a history of normal birth weight," he said. "[In this study] we did not find that maternal smoking confounded the affect of low birth weight on adult respiratory disease, but further research is needed comparing hospitalization and smoking rates between adults with history of low birth weight and normal birth weight to better understand this relationship."
While more research is needed to further clarify the relationship between birth weight and subsequent respiratory problems, these results do strongly suggest a looming public health issue. Since the mid-1980s, the proportion of low- and very low birth weight births in the U.S. has increased by more than 20 percent, and in 2005, there were 330,000 c
|Contact: Keely Savoie|
American Thoracic Society