OBJECTIVE. The objective of this study was to compare the current health status, physical ability, functional limitations, and health care use of extremely low birth weight and normal birth weight young adults.
METHODS. A longitudinal study was conducted of a population-based cohort of 166 extremely low birth weight survivors (501–1000 g birth weight; 1977–1982 births) and a group of 145 sociodemographically comparable normal birth weight individuals. Current health status, history of illnesses, hospitalizations, use of health resources, and physical self-efficacy were assessed through questionnaires that were administered to the young adults by masked interviewers.
RESULTS. Individuals completed the assessments at a mean age of 23 years. Neurosensory impairments were identified in 27% of extremely low birth weight and 2% of normal birth weight individuals. No differences were reported in the current health status for physical or mental summary scores. Extremely low birth weight young adults reported a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions in the past 6 months. A significantly higher proportion of extremely low birth weight individuals had functional limitations in seeing, hearing, and dexterity and experienced clumsiness and learning difficulties. Except for prescription glasses, medications for depression, and home-care services for extremely low birth weight individuals, there were no significant differences between groups in use of health care resources. Extremely low birth weight individuals had significantly weaker hand grip strength and lower scores for physical self-efficacy, perceived physical ability, and physical self-confidence.
CONCLUSIONS. Extremely low birth weight young adults seem to enjoy similar current health status to their normal birth weight peers. However, they continue to have significantly poorer physical abilities and a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions and functional limitations. Contrary to expectations, they do not pose a significant burden to the health care system at young adulthood.