Growth in early years of life affects respiratory health of children

Credit: Charlein Gracia

Children’s growth in the first three years of their lives has a significant impact on the development of their lungs and the risk of developing asthma at 10 years of age, reports a new study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)- a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, and the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Early infancy is an important age for the subsequent development of respiratory diseases in childhood and later life. Recent studies have also reported that excessive weight gain in the early years of life can be linked with lower lung function and a higher risk of developing childhood asthma.

The study was published recently in the journal Thorax. It examined whether or not early childhood growth patterns– verified by recording repeated weight and height measurements that were taken during the first three years of the child’s life– impacted respiratory health at the age of 10 years. The growth patterns that were studied were peak height and weight growth velocities, which take place at around one month of age, and the body mass index at adiposity peak- which occurs at around nine months of age.

The study worked with 4,435 children in the Netherlands, who participated in the Generation R Study, which is a population-based prospective cohort study, from birth to the time the children achieved 10 years of age. Childre’s weight and height were measured multiple times during the first three years of their lives. At the age of 10 years, spirometry was performed to see how the children’s lung function and the parents were also asked to answer a questionnaire that was designed specifically to determine whether or not their child had been diagnosed with asthma by a physician.

“The findings show that the infants with the highest weight gain velocity and body mass index had lower lung function at 10 years of age,” said Maribel Casas, a researcher at ISGlobal and Erasmus MC and the lead author of the study. “Specifically, we observed that these children had a lower function related to the smaller airways in relation to their total lung volume. Although we did not observe any relationship between height and weight growth and the risk of asthma, this disproportionate development of lung function could be a risk factor for the development of respiratory disease.”

The study also showed that “the later the children reached their peak body mass index, the better their lung function and, in the case of boys, the lower the risk of asthma,” explained Casas. “These results confirm that early childhood growth plays an important role in lung development.”

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