Pre-Term Infants at Risk of Diabetes, Obesity-Related Diseases

Early-term children more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.

Early-term delivery may negatively affect infants’ long-term health due to an increased risk of diabetes, obesity-related conditions, and shortened lifespan, according to a study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Birth is considered early term if it occurs between 37 and 39 weeks, while it is considered full term if it occurs between 37 and 42 weeks. Typically, infants born between 39 and 41 weeks have better outcomes compared with those born earlier or later.

While it is unlikely that labor would be medically induced early-term unless there were health risks, many factors may cause pre-term birth. The Mayo Clinic reports that the specific cause of early-term birth is often unclear, but poor nutrition, stress, physical injury, and infections may result in pre-term delivery.

Included in the study were 54,073 early-term deliveries and 171,000 full-term deliveries. The authors investigated hospitalizations of children with a maximum age of 18 years to determine the impact of gestation time on health and hospitalizations during childhood.

The authors found that children delivered early were more likely to be hospitalized for metabolic and obesity-related conditions, according to the study.

"We found that hospitalizations up to the age of 18 involving endocrine and metabolic morbidity were found to be more common in the early-term group as compared with the full-term group, especially at ages 5 and older," said researcher Eyal Sheiner, MD, PhD. "Obesity was significantly more frequent among the early term."

The authors also found that children 5 years and older who were born early had a greater risk of developing type 1 diabetes compared with full-term children. Without proper disease control, these patients can develop costly comorbidities, including heart disease.

"Pregnancies ending at early term were more likely to be complicated by hypertensive disorders and maternal diabetes (both gestational and pre-gestational). Deliveries were more often cesarean, and mean birthweight was significantly smaller," Dr Sheiner said. "Babies delivered at early term were also more likely to be low birthweight -- less than 5.5 pounds.”

It is also known that low birth weight can result in infections, breathing problems, neurologic problems, and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

These conditions may increase the risk of other comorbidities and have a significant impact on overall health, according to the study. The authors also report that these conditions can affect quality of life, healthcare spending, and lead to a shorter lifespan.