According to a new study, several birth and childhood factors can be useful predictors for teenage health. The study specifically found that factors, such as birth weight, gestational age at birth, and lung function, followed by growth and other measures at 8 years old, can be used to predict lung function during 14 to 17 years of age. The study is to be presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Munich, Germany, on Tuesday.

The research is part of scientists’ efforts to understand how early life factors can influence health in later years. Known as the "developmental origins of health" hypothesis, the study in this field aims to understand how factors like low birth weight or nutritional deficiency during early or middle-childhood can lead to diseases later in life. For example, low birth weight has been linked to heart diseases, while nutritional deficiency in early life is known to cause type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases in adult life.

The current study was based on the medical records of over 3,000 children enrolled at the Avon Longitudinal Study of Mothers and Children (ALSPAC). Researchers analyzed birth weight and gestational age at birth, followed by height, weight, and lung function at the age of 8, to conduct a comparative retrospective study on the effect of infancy and childhood factors on lung function in teenage years.

Lung function parameters of the participants were recorded with the help of portable spirometers during different ages. Using statistical models, the study showed that a person's lung function at the age of 14 to 17 years old can be largely predicted by measurements taken at the age of 8 and at birth.

Weight at birth did not seem to greatly influence lung function during teen years. The findings suggests that based on lung function parameters measured throughout childhood, it may be possible to predict how a person’s lung function will develop in later life. This concept, known as "tracking," suggests that if a child has poor lung function early in life, their lung function is likely to remain low throughout their lives.

"This is an important finding as the study suggests that it may be possible to identify children who may develop lung disease as adults. We know that certain risk factors, such as environmental pollution or tobacco smoking, can lead to adult disease,” Dr. W. John Watkins, lead author of the study from Cardiff University, UK, said in a press release.

Dr. Watkins feels that knowing which child is more prone to developing lung diseases as an adult is an important step in preventing exposure to risk factors during the growing up years and develop interventions to control or minimize diseases.

Source: Watkins J. Emerging concepts in respiratory disease. European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress. 2014.