Premature birth and co-morbidity in adolescence

A study which linked national registries from Finland and Norway to investigate prematurity and the occurrence of two or more health conditions during adolescence found that earlier gestational age at birth was consistently associated with increasingly complex multi-morbidity in adolescence in a dose–response manner.

The prevalence of preterm births is relatively high, and the health conditions identified in this study are chronic conditions that often lead to individual, family and societal burdens across the lifespan. Medical advances are needed to prevent premature births, but so are public health and health system strategies that target the social determinants of preterm birth.

Research is needed to understand whether and how investments in health, education and social services can improve health and wellbeing and thereby reduce the rate and consequences of premature birth. Examining the development of multi-morbidity in adolescence is an important focus as it is during adolescence that multi-morbidity can exacerbate the pre-existing risk for poor mental and psychosocial health.

This study found that physical/mental multi-morbidity in adolescents had strong associations with preterm birth. The researchers articulate the need for studies to explore the potential causal links between gestational age at birth and multi-morbidity. This kind of study requires a transdisciplinary approach with multiple stakeholders, including individuals and caregivers with lived experience. From a public health perspective, strategies that target social determinants of preterm birth should reduce the incidence of prematurity and of multi-morbidity in individuals born prematurely and improve health within the overall population.

Read here: Heikkila, K. et al. (2023) Preterm birth and the risk of multimorbidity in adolescence: A multiregister-based cohort study. The Lancet Public Health, 8(9):E680-E690.

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