Babies born prematurely and with extremely low birth weights (ELBW) have higher risks of experiencing health problems as well as socioeconomic, long-term challenges later in life.

Findings of a new study suggest that while these preemies become productive adults, they have higher chances of becoming unemployed compared to non-premature babies born with normal birth weights (NBW).

The results further suggest they are more likely to earn less, develop lower self-esteem and suffer from chronic health problems.

The research team from the McMaster University in Canada compared the data of 100 adults who were born premature and with extremely low birth weights with those of 89 adults born with normal birth weights.

The participants were aged 29 to 36 when the study was conducted. For a birth weight to be defined as extremely low, the premature baby must be born at 2.2 pounds or lower.

In particular, the researchers analyzed the groups' lifestyles and functional abilities. In addition, ELBW preemies were more likely to become sexually inactive, single or have fewer children compared to their healthy counterparts.

On the bright side, the underweight preemies were found to have lower chances of having alcohol or drug issues. The two groups didn't have significant differences when it comes to the highest educational level attained.

According to study author Dr. Saroj Saigal, they didn't see significant differences between the two groups when they still young and during their transition into adulthood.

"But now, they are older and are facing a competitive labor market where jobs are scarce. Also, the high proportion with neurosensory impairments accounted for many of the differences between the groups," Saigal said (PDF).

Saigal shared that despite the observations on the ELBW group, many of them are employed as contributing members of society. The research team in Canada plans to continue studying the ELBW survivors as they transition into middle age and see further differences.

"We want to make sure they receive the support that they need and to monitor them through their life trajectory," said Saigal.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on May 23.

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