Aims: To determine if very low birth weight (VLBW; birth weight <1500 g) is associated with reduced lung function and respiratory health in adolescence and, if it is, whether this impairment is associated with prematurity or intrauterine growth restriction.
Methods: A geographically defined cohort of 128 VLBW infants and an age, sex, and school matched comparison group born in 1980/81 were studied. The cohort and comparison group were assessed at 15 years of age. The birth weight ratio of the index cases (observed birth weight/expected birth weight for the gestation) was determined to assess the degree of growth restriction. Respiratory support received during the neonatal period was obtained from hospital records. Smoking habits and respiratory morbidity were obtained through questionnaires. Forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), and forced expiratory flow when 25–75% of FVC is expired (FEF25–75%) were measured using a portable spirometer. The values are expressed as percentage predicted for height, age, and gender using standard reference values. Adjustments were made for smoking habits of mother and children.
Results: The differences in means between index and comparison groups for FEF25–75% (-12.42%; p < 0.001) and FEV1/FVC (-3.53%; p < 0.001) ratio were statistically significant. The differences in FVC and FEV1 were not significant. No correlation was found between the birth weight ratio and lung function among the index cohort. Chronic cough, wheezing, and asthma were more common among the index cohort than in the comparison group. Within the index group, there was no difference in lung function between those who received and those who did not receive respiratory support.
Conclusion: Adolescents who were VLBW compared with matched controls showed medium and small airways obstruction. This was associated with prematurity rather than intrauterine growth restriction or having received respiratory support during the neonatal period. The index VLBW cohort compared with their controls were also more prone to chronic cough, wheezing, and asthma.