(HealthDay News) − The health outcomes of infants born moderate/late preterm or early term are worse than those born full term, with a gradient of increasing risk with decreasing gestation.

Elaine M. Boyle, MB, ChB, from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a secondary analysis of data from 18,818 infants from the Millennium Cohort Study to investigate the burden of later disease associated with moderate/late preterm and early term births (32−36 weeks and 37−38 weeks, respectively). Health outcomes were measured at age three (14,273 children) and five (14,056 children) years.

The researchers found that there was a gradient of increasing risk of poorer outcome with decreasing gestation for measures of general health, hospital admissions, and longstanding illness. Being born in late/moderate preterm or early term was the greatest contribution to disease burden at ages three and five years. For moderate/late preterm birth and early term birth, compared with very preterm birth (before 32 weeks), the population attributable fraction of having at least three hospital admissions between nine months and five years was 5.7, 7.2, and 3.8%, respectively. Likewise, the population attributable fraction for limiting longstanding illness at five years was 5.4% for early term birth, 5.4% for moderate/late preterm birth, and 2.7% for very preterm birth.

“Continuing to view health outcomes of babies as dichotomous preterm/term outcomes is inappropriate, as our study shows a continuum of increasing risk of adverse outcome with increasing prematurity, even approaching full term gestation,” the authors write.

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