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Early growth and adult respiratory function in men and women followed from the fetal period to adulthood
  1. Dexter Canoy1,
  2. Juha Pekkanen3,
  3. Paul Elliott2,
  4. Anneli Pouta4,
  5. Jaana Laitinen6,
  6. Anna-Liisa Hartikainen5,
  7. Paavo Zitting1,
  8. Swatee Patel7,
  9. Mark P Little2,
  10. Marjo-Riitta Järvelin2
  1. 1Department of Public Health Science and General Practice, University of Oulu, Finland
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Imperial College London, UK
  3. 3Environmental Epidemiology Unit, National Public Health Institute, Finland
  4. 4Department of Child and Adolescent Health, National Public Health Institute, Finland
  5. 5Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Oulu, Finland
  6. 6Oulu Regional Institute of Occupational Health, Finland
  7. 7School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, The University of Greenwich, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr Dexter Canoy
    Northwest Institute for Bio-Health Informatics, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK; dexter.canoy{at}


Background: While some studies suggest that poor fetal growth rate, as indicated by lower birth weight, is associated with poor respiratory function in childhood, findings among adults remain inconsistent. A study was undertaken to determine the association between early growth and adult respiratory function.

Methods: A longitudinal birth cohort study was performed of 5390 men and women born full term and prospectively followed from the fetal period to adulthood. Weight at birth and infancy were recorded, and forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) were assessed by standard spirometry at age 31 years.

Results: Adult FEV1 and FVC increased linearly with higher birth weight in both men and women with no apparent threshold. After adjustment for sex, adult height and other potential confounders operating through the life course, every 500 g higher birth weight was associated with a higher FEV1 of 53.1 ml (95% CI 38.4 to 67.7) and higher FVC of 52.5 ml (95% CI 35.5 to 69.4). These positive associations persisted across categories of smoking, physical activity and body mass index, with the lowest respiratory function noted among those with lower birth weight who were smokers, led a sedentary lifestyle or were overweight. Weight gain in infancy was also positively associated with adult lung function.

Conclusion: Birth weight is continuously and independently associated with adult respiratory function. It is plausible that poor growth in early life may restrict normal lung growth and development, which could have long-term consequences on lung function later in life.

  • BMI, body mass index
  • FEV1, forced expiratory volume in 1 s
  • FVC, forced vital capacity

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  • Published Online First 13 November 2006

  • The 1966 Northern Finland Birth Cohort study has been supported by programme grants from the Academy of Finland, the University of Oulu and the University Hospital Oulu. Additional grants were received from the European Commission (Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources Programme, contract number QLG1-CT-2000-01643) for data collection. Funding agencies were not involved in the study design, analysis and data interpretation, writing of the manuscript, and the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests: None declared