Premature babies are said to have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis during the adult phase, a new study has found.

One of the many crucial events that occur as mothers approach their date of delivery is transferring their calcium stores to their baby. This happens during the final weeks of pregnancy, boosting the bone growth of the child.

In some cases, however, babies do not reach term so the process of calcium transfer is not completed. As a result, adults born prematurely have lower maximum bone mass than those born full term. Babies who were able to reach term but were born small based on gestational age take after premature babies in terms of peak bone mass in adulthood.

The findings of the study are vital because they give insight into the possible risk for osteoporosis that a child may face during adulthood.

"Few studies to date have addressed bone mass in adults who were born with low birth weight, and there are conflicting findings," says study first author Chandima Balasuriya.

Osteoporosis Link And Prematurity

To investigate, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology studied adults between the ages of 26 and 28. Among these participants, 52 were born with very low birth weights. Another group of 56 subjects was born full term but was small for gestational age. The study pool also included 75 controls who were born at term and with normal birth weight.

The scientists measured bone mineral density and content of the participants' neck, spine, hip and entire body. They also looked into the subjects' current weight and height, degree of physical activity, smoking habits and other parameters.

One particularly interesting angle of the study is centered on the group of adults born at term but small for gestational age. Subjects in this group have reduced bone mass, but when the experts controlled their height which also tended to be shorter, they discovered that the bone mass results were slightly due to their small body size.

Conversely, body size alone was not responsible for the lower bone mass of the participants who were born premature.

Implications Of The Study

The study conveys that parents and physicians may use birth weight and gestational age as a means of determining who are at risk for osteoporosis later in life. They can exert extra bone mass building interventions to these kids by giving appropriate diet high in vitamin D, protein and calcium and encouraging them to perform weight-bearing exercises.

The study is published in Endocrine Abstracts.

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