The role of growth and nutrition in the early origins of spirometric restriction in adult life: a longitudinal, multicohort, population-based study

Lancet Respir Med. 2022 Jan;10(1):59-71. doi: 10.1016/S2213-2600(21)00355-6. Epub 2021 Nov 26.


Background: Spirometric restriction, defined as a reduced forced vital capacity (FVC) with a preserved FEV1/FVC ratio, is associated with increased respiratory and non-respiratory comorbidities and all-cause mortality in adulthood. Little is known about the early origins of this condition. We sought to identify early-life risk factors for spirometric restriction in adult life.

Methods: In this longitudinal, multicohort, population-based study, we used data from the Tucson Children's Respiratory Study (TCRS), which recruited 1246 healthy infants at birth between April 1980, and October 1984, in Tucson, AZ, USA. Questionnaires were answered by the primary caregiver at enrolment, immediately after the child's birth, and multiple follow-up questionnaires were completed through childhood and adulthood. At the age of 22, 26, 32, and 36 years, lung function was measured with spirometry. At each survey, three mutually exclusive spirometric patterns were defined: (1) normal (FEV1/FVC ≥10th percentile and FVC ≥10th percentile); (2) restrictive (FEV1/FVC ≥10th percentile and FVC <10th percentile); and (3) obstructive (FEV1/FVC <10th percentile, independent of FVC). Data on demographic features and parental health factors were collected from questionnaires; pregnancy and perinatal data (including nutritional problems) and birth measurements were obtained from medical records; and weight, height, and body-mass index (BMI) during childhood (age 6-16 years) were measured by study nurses. The associations between early-life risk factors and spirometric patterns were assessed by multivariate multinomial logistic regression analysis, adjusted for survey year, sex, and race-ethnicity. Significant risk factors were further tested for replication in the Swedish Child (Barn), Allergy, Milieu, Stockholm, Epidemiological (BAMSE; n=1817; spirometry surveys were done at age 24 years) survey and the UK Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study (MAAS; n=411; spirometry surveys were done at age 18 years) birth cohorts, and fixed-effect meta-analyses of relative risk ratios (RRRs) from multinomial logistic regression models were done to generate a pooled estimate of the effect across the three cohorts. Measurements of body composition (MAAS; n=365) and total lung capacity (TCRS; n=173 and MAAS; n=407) were also available for a subset of participants.

Findings: Of 1246 healthy infants included in TCRS, for the present study we included data for 652 participants who had at least one set of spirometry data, contributing up to 1668 observations. In the TCRS cohort, results from the multivariate models showed that maternal nutritional problems during pregnancy (RRR 2·48 [95% CI 1·30-4·76]; p=0·0062), being born small for gestational age (birthweight <10th percentile; 3·26 [1·34-7·93]; p=0·0093), and being underweight in childhood (BMI-for-age <5th percentile; 3·54 [1·35-9·26]; p=0·010) were independent predictors of spirometric restriction in adult life. Associations between being small for gestational age (p=0·0028) and underweight in childhood (p<0·0001) with adult spirometric restriction were supported by the results of meta-analysis of data from all three cohorts. In the MAAS cohort, having a low lean BMI (ie, <10th percentile) at age 11 years predicted adult (age 18 years) spirometric restriction (RRR 3·66 [1·48-9·02]; p=0·0048). These associations of spirometric restriction with small for gestational age, childhood underweight, and low lean BMI in childhood were verified in participants with spirometric restriction who had diminished total lung capacity, indicating that these factors specifically increase the risk of lung restriction.

Interpretation: Poor growth and nutritional deficits in utero and throughout childhood precede and predict the development of spirometric restriction in adult life. Strategies to improve prenatal and childhood growth trajectories could help to prevent spirometric restriction and its associated morbidity and mortality burden.

Funding: National Institutes of Health.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung*
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Spirometry
  • Vital Capacity
  • Young Adult