A new study has found that factors such as birth weight, gestational age at birth, and lung function, growth and other measures taken at 8 years of age could be used to predict lung function during mid-to-late teenage years.

The study, presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Munich, is part of a growing area of research into understanding how early life factors could impact on the development of disease into adulthood.

Data from more than 3,000 records in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Mothers and Children (ALSPAC) was used in the study. The researchers analysed weight and gestational age at birth, followed by height, weight and lung function at the age of 8 years, with the aim of understanding whether factors in early infancy and early childhood could explain the lung function measurement at 14–17 years of age.

Using statistical models, the study showed that a person’s lung function at the age of 14–17 years can be largely predicted by measurements taken at the age of 8 years and at birth. The researchers also discovered that weight at birth had only a small effect on lung function in teen years.

The findings suggest that it could be possible to predict how a person’s lung function will develop in the future based on measurements taken throughout childhood. This concept, known as “tracking”, suggests that if a child has poor lung function early in life, their lung function is likely to remain low throughout their lives.

Dr W. John Watkins, lead author of the study from Cardiff University, said: “This is an important finding as the study suggests that it may be possible to identify children who may develop lung disease as adults. We know that certain risk factors, such as environmental pollution or tobacco smoking can lead to adult disease. If we are able to predict which children are more likely to develop adult disease, it will be even more important for us to help prevent exposure to risk factors as they grow up. This represents a key intervention point for clinicians.”