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Birth weight, childhood lower respiratory tract infection, and adult lung function


BACKGROUND Historical cohort studies in England have found that impaired fetal growth and lower respiratory tract infections in early childhood are associated with lower levels of lung function in late adult life. These relations are investigated in a similar study in Scotland.

METHODS In 1985–86 a follow up study was carried out of 1070 children who had been born in St Andrew’s from 1921 to 1935 and followed from birth to 14 years of age by the Mackenzie Institute for Medical Research. Recorded information included birth weight and respiratory illnesses. The lung function of 239 of these individuals was measured.

RESULTS There was no association between birth weight and lung function. Pneumonia before two years of age was associated with a difference in mean forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) of −0.39 litres (95% confidence interval (CI) −0.67, −0.11; p = 0.007) and in mean forced vital capacity (FVC) of −0.60 litres (95% CI −0.92, −0.28; p<0.001), after controlling for age, sex, height, smoking, type of spirometer, and other illnesses before two years. Similar reductions were seen in men and women. Bronchitis before two years was associated with smaller deficits in FEV1 and FVC. Asthma or wheeze at two years and older and cough after five years were also associated with a reduction in FEV1.

CONCLUSIONS The relation between impaired fetal growth and lower lung function in late adult life seen in previous studies was not confirmed in this cohort. The deficits in FEV1 and FVC associated with pneumonia and bronchitis in the first two years of life are consistent with a causal relation.

  • childhood pneumonia
  • birth weight
  • adult lung function

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