Boys who weigh less than 2 pounds at birth don't age as well as their normal-weight peers, a long-term study finds.
Canadian researchers have followed a group of extremely low birth weight (ELBW) babies and their normal-weight counterparts since 1977.
When participants were in their early 30s, researchers compared the genes of 45 who were ELBW babies with those of 47 whose birth weight was normal.
After accounting for health issues that could affect the results, researchers found that at least biologically, premature boys age faster than and were five years older than boys born at the same time whose weight was normal. This difference was not found in girls.
"Although it is unclear why accelerated biological aging is seen in the ELBW men, this suggests that prenatal exposures play an important role in aging," said first author Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
His team noted that the rate of aging may be influenced by biological stresses in the womb and then in the newborn intensive care unit.
Van Lieshout, himself an ELBW baby, said previous research found that ELBW boys are more susceptible to prenatal stresses than ELBW girls.
"This certainly highlights the need to monitor the health of preterm survivors across their lifespan, and more research needs to be done," he said in a university news release. "This also emphasizes the need to forewarn the ELBW men and promote healthy aging so they may proactively mitigate these risks."
Optimizing health during adulthood includes a balanced diet, avoiding smoking, proper sleep and exercise, stress management, mental stimulation and development of strong social networks, Van Lieshout said.
The findings were published May 17 in the journal Pediatrics.
For more about premature infants, head to the March of Dimes.
SOURCE: McMaster University, news release, May 17, 2021