Arch Dis Child 99:362-368 doi:10.1136/archdischild-2013-304615
  • Original article

Preterm birth and subsequent insulin sensitivity: a systematic review

  1. Nicholas Embleton1
  1. 1Department of Neonatal Medicine, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Department of Paediatric Endocrinology, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicholas Embleton, Leazes Wing, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Queen Victoria Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP, UK; nicholas.embleton{at}
  • Received 11 June 2013
  • Revised 10 November 2013
  • Accepted 29 November 2013
  • Published Online First 20 December 2013


Objective The incidence of preterm birth is increasing worldwide. Evidence suggests that in later life these children are at increased risk of ‘metabolic syndrome’, which is itself associated with reduced insulin sensitivity (IS). We carried out a systematic review to examine whether preterm birth is associated with later changes in IS and whether a difference exists between those born small-for-gestational age (SGA) and appropriate-for-gestational age (AGA).

Methods We used the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidance to structure our review with a priori data extraction criteria to answer the questions posed and then carried out our literature search. Only papers which included preterm infants in their study population and specifically assessed IS were included. Findings are reported by age group to enable change over the life course to be examined, even though the studies were mostly cross-sectional, observation studies.

Results We identified and reviewed 26 suitable publications representing 20 separate cohorts, of which 16 had a term control group. The heterogeneity of the methods used to measure IS precluded meta-analysis. In infancy and early childhood there is a measurable association between IS and preterm birth. In later childhood and adulthood the strength of this association reduces, and current body composition becomes the variable most strongly associated with IS.

Conclusions There is an association between preterm birth and IS throughout the life course, but the data are conflicting and associations are likely to be affected by the heterogeneity of each study population and multiple confounding factors that may change over time. While the optimal nutritional strategy for preterm infants remains to be determined, standard public health guidance to avoid obesogenic lifestyle factors remains equally important to individuals born preterm.

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